All UK honey exports fail EU fraud tests

28 March 2023

All UK honey tested by EU investigators has failed authenticity tests, while nearly half of the honey imported into the EU is suspected of being "adulterated". 

An investigation by the EU has found that all 10 of the British honey samples it tested have failed authenticity tests.

The honeys tested were likely to have been produced abroad then blended in the UK before being exported to the EU, officials said. 

The findings, published in the EU report From the Hives, also revealed almost half (46%) of all honey imported into the EU had “at least one marker of extraneous sugar sources” – the sign of it being adulterated.

Adulteration is rife throughout honey supply chains, the report noted, and seems to be getting worse. Currently, 46% of samples analysed from around the world were suspected of fraud, compared with just 14% in the previous investigation in 2015-2017.

The failed honeys all contained sugar syrups, which are added to increase yield and therefore lower costs. They were also found to have used accredited laboratories to adapt the sugar blends to avoid detection from official authorities before imports.

Moreover, the honeys' true geographical origins were masked by use of forged traceability information.

British Beekeeper Association (BBKA) trustee, Clare McGettigan, told Supply Management the BBKA has been “very concerned about the issue of honey fraud for some time”.

She said concerns over the status of British honey pre-date Brexit, and the BBKA is calling on the government to change labelling requirements to provide clarity on honey origins. Currently, she said, there is no requirement to identify the countries of origin of honey blended from more than one country.

She said: “Blended honey – which comprises the majority of honey sold in the UK – is at particular risk of adulteration at some point in the supply chain. Government feedback – that the requested labelling change could be ‘highly burdensome’ – seems at odds with its duty to ensure that food fraud is not occurring.

“The BBKA would always recommend that consumers buy honey from local beekeepers, where they can have much greater assurance of quality and provenance," she added. "Keep the supply chain as short as possible. Know your beekeeper, know your honey.”

The report noted both the price difference between authentic honeys and sugar syrups and the difficulty of detecting syrup-adulterated products has provided “attractive fraud opportunities for dishonest business operators”.

OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud office, warned: “Such practices defraud consumers and put honest producers in jeopardy as they face unfair competition from operators who can slash prices thanks to illicit, cheap ingredients.”

British Retail Consortium food policy adviser, Devina Sankhla, said: “Our members work with suppliers to guarantee the authenticity of their honey, conducting regular checks to ensure all honey they sell is as described. Retailers support the ongoing improvement and harmonisation of techniques to advance the detection of adulterated honey.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs insisted there are no threats to consumer health.

It said: “There is no place for adulterated honey. This undermines consumer confidence and disadvantages responsible businesses acting within the law.”

The EU report examined 320 honey samples originating from 20 exporting countries.

Overall, the data found that more than half (57%) the operators had exported honey which had been adulterated with extraneous sugars. The highest absolute number of honey samples with “suspicious” consignments came from China.

The market for honey in the EU has been steadily growing, according to Euromonitor data, rising from €2bn in 2019, to €2.3bn in 2021.

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