Sugars can be turned into syrups, with colours and flavourings to mimic honey © Getty Images/EyeEm
Sugars can be turned into syrups, with colours and flavourings to mimic honey © Getty Images/EyeEm

Tesco withdraws honey over adulteration concerns

25 November 2019

Tesco has withdrawn its own-brand honey following concerns it could have been bulked out with cheap syrups.  

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is looking into reports that Tesco’s own-brand honey could contain syrups using ordinary sugar.

Trading standards officers in Richmond commissioned tests on the supermarket’s honey from a public analyst laboratory, according to the Sunday Times

A spokesperson for Richmond Council told the newspaper: “The findings of the analysis is that there is likely to be adulteration with non-natural products.

“This could indicate a more widespread issue with adulteration of honey. The results have been passed to the Food Standards Agency and the National Food Crime Unit to follow up with Tesco. Tesco has been alerted. They have asked for clarification on the results from the public analyst.”

The National Food Crime Unit, which was set up in the wake of the 2014 horse meat scandal and is overseen by the FSA, has reportedly launched a probe into how widespread the adulteration is. 

An FSA spokesperson told SM: “We are continuing to look into these reports to determine whether further action is required.

“Honey is a natural but complex product and there are a number of different tests which may be used to determine authenticity.”

A Tesco spokesperson told SM: “Tesco brand honey is 100% pure, natural and can be directly traced back to the beekeeper. We carry out regular tests to ensure our honey meets this standard and is fully compliant with all legal requirements. However, as a precautionary measure, we have temporarily withdrawn the product to conduct further tests.”

Earlier this year, the FSA warned British retailers and suppliers about the alleged adulteration of honey after tests showed that many brands could be impacted as sugars can easily be turned into syrup, with colours and flavourings added to mimic honey. 

While fakes used to be undetectable, analysts have started using a process called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), to distinguish between different types of sugars and their origins. The technique used on the Tesco honey.

Chris Elliott, professor of food safety at Queen’s University, Belfast, told the Sunday Times: “Honey is one of the most adulterated types of food. NMR is a reliable technique and there is a big push to introduce it as a standard testing procedure globally. Tesco had big problems over horse meat and if there are doubts over honey it should act fast and take it off the shelves.”

Britain only produces 10% of the 24,000 tonnes of honey it uses each year. The rest is largely imported from China. 

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