Honey authenticity is all over the (food fraud) news this month. There’s good news. And bad.
Here’s what’s happening in honey fraud right now, from Karen Constable of authenticfood.co and Food Fraud Advisors.
(Karen Constable) “It’s been a tough year for honey. There has been lots of commentary about food fraud in honey, following a big recall in the UK at the end of last year and controversy over honey testing methods. It’s never good to hear about food fraud issues, but there is a silver lining.
The Canadian government last year committed to spending more than $20 million on food fraud testing and intelligence gathering over a five year period. Honey is one food product that has been chosen for surveillance by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The CFIA published their honey surveillance results this month and guess what?! Authenticity is up and food fraud is down compared to last year.
The CFIA sampled both the marketplace at large and also a number of bulk honey importers and processors that were deemed to be high risk. Only 13% of samples were deemed not-authentic, compared to 22% the previous year. That’s a significant improvement!
The CFIA used the results of their previous honey surveillance work to design a targeted sampling plan. Those samples that they targeted had risk factors such as a history of non-compliance, known preventive controls deficits and unusual trading patterns. This type of targeting sampling, in which previous results are used to focus on known problem areas, is a great way to maximise the value of authenticity testing (which can be expensive). Way to go, Canadia! (PS for more on sampling methodology, click here)
Of those samples collected from the marketplace (that is, without being targeted towards high-risk products), 98% were authentic and the only products that had ‘unsatisfactory results’ were imported products.
So testing = good. For my food safety viewers, it’s worth noting that – unlike micro testing – food authenticity testing can not only provide valuable insights into the occurrence of food fraud but also helps to prevent it. The fact that someone is paying attention, and doing testing can effectively drive reductions in fraud, as we have seen with the Canadian honey testing regime. My prediction is that next year’s surveillance will have even better results than this year’s. And that’s something to be happy about!
The Canadian government isn’t the only one that’s been testing honey this year. The Indian Centre for Science and Environment and a government-funded institute in the Philippines have also published honey testing results this month.
In the Philippines, a survey of 74 locally-produced honeys purchased online found that 87% of them contained sugar syrup. Ie rendering them NOT authentic honey. More than 80% of these products actually contained no honey at all and were just made from sugar syrup.
These are some of the worst authenticity statistics that I have ever seen!
Local products purchased in brick and mortar stores fared a little better in this study, but the results were still bad, with around 75% of samples containing adulterant(s). Interestingly, in the Philippines, imported honeys performed significantly better than the locally-produced honeys, the opposite of what was seen in Canada.
So those results were pretty bad, but it is good to see authenticity testing being done in the public arena more frequently than in the past.
Yep, this is really ugly.
There’s testing and then there’s testing….
India is another country that is funding food adulteration prevention. And, of course, that’s a good thing. And they are testing honey.
However, like many countries, India’s legal definition of honey is based on the chemical signature of the sugars in the product, which is verified using C3 and C4 testing.
In December, The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE, India) reported a very high proportion of ‘inauthentic’ honeys in a survey that made use of both C3/C4 tests and more sophisticated testing that makes use of NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) analysis. Some honeys passed the C3/C4 tests but ‘failed’ the NMR tests.
Investigators from CSE claim this is due to the products being made with special syrups that are designed to ‘trick’ the C3/C4 tests. They allege that these syrups can be purchased cheaply via online trade portals. The syrups are apparently marketed as “all pass” syrups because the suppliers claim they can pass the Indian government’s authenticity tests.
The CSE say that their own testing has confirmed that samples containing up to 50 percent of “all pass” syrup pass the tests.
There’s big money to be made from food fraud, as I have said before. I have even heard it said that olive oil fraud is 3 times more profitable than smuggling cocaine – as well as being much less risky. (I haven’t been able to find the original source of that comment, I heard it at a food fraud conference in 2017). And where there is money to be made, criminals will find ways to cheat the system.
Sadly, worldwide volumes of honey production are way down and predicted to fall even further due to climate change and bee colony diseases. That makes genuine honey more scarce, more valuable and, as a result, more profitable to fake. Honey fraud is – unfortunately – here to stay.
My hope is that organisations like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the CSE in India continue to keep the pressure on honey fraudsters. Let’s keep making their lives hell!”