An International Crisis No one is Talking About: Fraudulent Honey
At Pass the Honey we source 100% real, raw, unadulterated honeycomb. Did you know that there is 70% chance that the honey you are purchasing in US grocery stores is fake? Unfortunately fake or adulterated honey is a big problem for the global honey industry, beekeepers, and bees. It’s estimated that 30% of honey sold in the global market is mixed with other sugars and that up to 70% of honey sold in the US could be fraudulent. 1 2
Pass the Honey exists to create and support a regenerative honey industry that is good for bees, people, and the planet. We see natural honeycomb as an opportunity to create a positive impact across the entire honey industry. We’re working to create holistic solutions to the many challenges and threats that face the honey industry, including honey fraud. In this article, we dive into what fake honey is, the risks it poses for beekeepers and bees, and how PTH is growing solutions.
What is fake honey?
Fake honey is honey that has been changed from its original, pure form or harvested before it is mature. Honey can be fraudulent in four primary ways. First, honey can be mixed with processed sugar syrups made from crops like corn, cane sugar, beet sugar, rice, or wheat. Second, unripe honey can be harvested before it has completely finished being processed by bees and its sugars fully converted to honey. Third, bees can be fed sugar syrups during harvest season, and therefore the honey harvested is not sourced from plant nectar and pollen but rather processed sugars. 3 And lastly, honey can be filtered to remove pollen and disguise the exact origin of the honey. The people who make or mix fake honey, honey fraudsters, create large quantities of fraudulent honey to sell at cheap prices.
Honey fraud grew in popularity in many countries in the 1970s with the creation of corn syrup. In the 70s, it was discovered that China was a major exporter of fake honey. When regulators began placing restrictions on Chinese honey imports, companies would often illegally import Chinese honey by sending it through other countries in an attempt to hide its origin. A majority of adulterated honey still comes from China which is why the US and other countries have placed high tariffs on imported honey from China and have increased programs to test for fraudulent honey. The US produces only 25% of honey consumed nationally and imports the other 75%.1 There’s a lot of fake honey being sold in the US.
In today’s global honey industry it is often difficult to track the exact source of honey. Honey produced in one country is shipped across the world, often through other countries, to be sold in another. To further complicate matters, honey that has been altered can be difficult to identify. Only a portion of honey imported into the United States is lab tested for alterations, contaminants, or to identify the location of production. Over the years honey fraudsters have developed new methods of altering the syrups they use, or filtering honey so that fake honey is not easily detected by many laboratory tests. To safeguard the integrity of honey and the honey industry countries need to strategically address honey fraud and implement strict testing and labeling requirements of exported and imported honey. 4
At Pass the Honey we assure the honeycomb we source is 100% real, unadulterated and pure by using the most advanced form of testing, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). NMR testing analyzes a multitude of components in honey making it very difficult to mask alterations. NMR can effectively identify alterations, geographical production location, and floral sources of the honey. 5 We also ensure the integrity of our honeycomb by sourcing from small beekeepers who use natural beekeeping practices. We know exactly where and how our honeycomb was produced and how it travels. One of the many benefits of honeycomb is that the honey is protected inside the comb wax from the moment the bees make it.
Let’s not forget to mention that fraudulent honey is bad for consumers. Fake honey dilutes the natural beneficial properties of real honey. Processed sugars added in syrups and other contaminants can actually be harmful to consumers.6 And deceiving consumers is just wrong!
Fake honey is bad for beekeepers and honey bees
Now that we understand what fake honey is, let’s look at how it impacts beekeepers and bees and how we can help. While beekeepers and bees face many threats, the global honey industry is booming and demand for honey is growing. 7 In 2019 US beekeepers lost 40% of their hives despite recent efforts to address colony collapse disorder. 8 In 2020 the global honey industry was valued at $9.21 billion USD and it is expected to grow by 8.2% annually.9
Even though there’s more demand than ever for honey, fraud in the industry is making it nearly impossible for authentic honey producers to stay in business. The increased amount of fake honey being imported and sold at lower prices has driven the market price of honey way down. It costs US beekeepers at least $2 dollars to produce a pound of honey but imported honey can be sold for as little as 81 cents a pound. 4 As beekeepers are forced to compete with low market prices they are pressured to increase income from honey production and pollination services. Many beekeepers are closing up shop because they simply can’t make a profit or even cover costs with falsely low market prices.
The pressure fake honey puts on beekeepers not only threatens their businesses but also the health of honey bees and in the end our entire food system.
In an effort to stay in business beekeepers are often forced into practices that don’t support the health of their bees. To increase production beekeepers may overharvest honey from hives and feed sugar syrups to bees overwinter. Traditionally sugar syrups are used by beekeepers in emergency circumstances when bees need extra food for example during times of drought. However, when beekeepers harvest more honey, leaving little or none for the hive to eat over winter, they must use syrups to feed the bees. Beehives thrive off of consuming nutrient-rich honey made from nectar and pollen. Feeding bees false syrups can weaken their immune systems and can weaken the overall health of the hive.¹¹
In order to stay in business beekeepers will often need to increase their income from pollination services by using their bees to pollinate more agricultural fields in a season. This means beekeepers will need to transport their bees to pollinate more fields. Frequently relocating bees stresses and can weaken the hive and expose them to pests and diseases from other regions.
As more beekeepers close up shop fewer bees will be available to do the important work of pollinating crops. Fake honey poses a serious threat not only to the honey industry but to the bees who pollinate 30% of our food crops and in the end threatens our entire food system. 1
The real regenerative honeycomb solution
At Pass the Honey we see the opportunity to address big problems in the honey industry, like fraud, by developing solutions with local beekeepers and landowners. Our team is dedicated to creating a regenerative honey industry that supports the health of bees, grows a thriving market for real honey, and supports regenerative agriculture and land management. It’s time we turn the tide of the honey industry to help beekeepers, bees and the important role they play in food production and biodiversity.
How will we do this? First, we are growing a local, regenerative, and 100% transparent supply of real honeycomb and honey through our Regenerative Honeycomb Initiative. We are currently working to invest in US beekeepers who raise their bees with natural, regenerative beekeeping practices on lands free from chemicals and pesticides. Developing a network of US beekeepers who produce real honey and provide transparency on their practices removes fraud from the equation. Through the use of natural beekeeping practices, the health of bees will be supported for the long term.
Second, we are developing a market for regenerative honeycomb by educating consumers and connecting them with real honey products. We want beekeepers to be paid a fair price for the honey they produce and consumers to be assured they are eating real honey that created positive impacts in the world. We’re developing market opportunities and solutions to make this happen. As the national market for real regenerative honey grows, beekeepers will be able to stay in business and more beekeepers will transition to regenerative beekeeping practices.
You help support this work and vision when you purchase Pass the Honey honeycomb. We also encourage you to get to know your local beekeepers, ask them about their production methods and buy natural honey. When you are at the store check honey labels carefully and only buy locally produced, unfiltered, raw honey.
Honey fraud in the global market needs to be addressed with regulations, testing, and labeling. At the same time we need to support the growth of a healthier honey industry that addresses fraud and provides support for the long-term health of beekeepers, bees, consumers and the planet.
Should you have any questions regarding our honeycomb or initiatives, please connect with us. We hope this article has informed some much needed misinformation within the honey industry, and that you will join us as part of the solution.
- Copeland, C. Honey is one of the most faked foods in the world, and the US government isn’t doing much to fix it. Insider https://www.insider.com/fake-honey-problems-how-it-works-2020-9 (2020).
- Mission, B. Honey fraud on the global market. https://beemission.com/blogs/news/honey-fraud-on-the-global-market.
- SCIMEX. EXPERT REACTION: Honey fraud. https://www.scimex.org/newsfeed/expert-reaction-honey-fraud (2018).
- Parker, P. US beekeepers fear for their future. BBC (2020).
- Using NMR to detect honey fraud - the resonance. https://www.theresonance.com/using-nmr-to-detect-honey-fraud/ (2018).
- Fakhlaei, R. et al. The Toxic Impact of Honey Adulteration: A Review. Foods 9, (2020).
- Jacobo, J. Nearly 40% decline in honey bee population last winter ‘unsustainable,’ experts say. ABC News https://abcnews.go.com/US/40-decline-honey-bee-population-winter-unsustainable-experts/story?id=64191609 (2019).
- Milman, O. US beekeepers lost 40% of honeybee colonies over past year, survey finds. The Guardian (2019).
- Honey market share analysis. https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/honey-market.
- Contributions of the U.S. Honey Industry to the U.S. Economy. UC Davis. https://aic.ucdavis.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/HONEY-COMPLETE-DRAFT_FEBRUARY-11-2019.pdf
11. Frizzera, D. et al. Possible side effects of sugar supplementary nutrition on honey bee health. Apidologie, 51, (2020).