Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn't Honey

geochem1st

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More than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores isn't exactly what the bees produce, according to testing done exclusively for Food Safety News.

The results show that the pollen frequently has been filtered out of products labeled "honey."
The removal of these microscopic particles from deep within a flower would make the nectar flunk the quality standards set by most of the world's food safety agencies.

The food safety divisions of the World Health Organization, the European Commission and dozens of others also have ruled that without pollen there is no way to determine whether the honey came from legitimate and safe sources.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says that any product that's been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn't honey. However, the FDA isn't checking honey sold here to see if it contains pollen.

Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen, which is the only foolproof sign identifying the source of the honey. It is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of their honey - some containing illegal antibiotics - on the U.S. market for years.

Food Safety News decided to test honey sold in various outlets after its earlier investigation found U.S. groceries flooded with Indian honey banned in Europe as unsafe because of contamination with antibiotics, heavy metal and a total lack of pollen which prevented tracking its origin.

Food Safety News purchased more than 60 jars, jugs and plastic bears of honey in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

The contents were analyzed for pollen by Vaughn Bryant, a professor at Texas A&M University and one of the nation's premier melissopalynologists, or investigators of pollen in honey.

Bryant, who is director of the Palynology Research Laboratory, found that among the containers of honey provided by Food Safety News:

• 76 percent of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed, These were stores like TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop and King Soopers.

• 100 percent of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS Pharmacy had no pollen.

• 77 percent of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam's Club, Walmart, Target and H-E-B had the pollen filtered out.

• 100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smucker, McDonald's and KFC had the pollen removed.

• Bryant found that every one of the samples Food Safety News bought at farmers markets, co-ops and "natural" stores like PCC and Trader Joe's had the full, anticipated, amount of pollen.

And if you have to buy at major grocery chains, the analysis found that your odds are somewhat better of getting honey that wasn't ultra-filtered if you buy brands labeled as organic. Out of seven samples tested, five (71 percent) were heavy with pollen. All of the organic honey was produced in Brazil, according to the labels.

The National Honey Board, a federal research and promotion organization under USDA oversight, says the bulk of foreign honey (at least 60 percent or more) is sold to the food industry for use in baked goods, beverages, sauces and processed foods. Food Safety News did not examine these products for this story.

Some U.S. honey packers didn't want to talk about how they process their merchandise.

One who did was Bob Olney, of Honey Tree Inc., in Michigan, who sells its Winnie the Pooh honey in Walmart stores. Bryant's analysis of the contents of the container made in Winnie's image found that the pollen had been removed.

Olney says that his honey came from suppliers in Montana, North Dakota and Alberta. "It was filtered in processing because North American shoppers want their honey crystal clear," he said.

The packers of Silverbow Honey added: "The grocery stores want processed honey as it lasts longer on the shelves."

However, most beekeepers say traditional filtering used by most will catch bee parts, wax, debris from the hives and other visible contaminants but will leave the pollen in place.

Ernie Groeb, the president and CEO of Groeb Farms Inc., which calls itself "the world's largest packer of honey," says he makes no specific requirement to the pollen content of the 85 million pounds of honey his company buys.

Groeb sells retail under the Miller's brand and says he buys 100 percent pure honey, but does not "specify nor do we require that the pollen be left in or be removed."

He says that there are many different filtering methods used by beekeepers and honey packers.

"We buy basically what's considered raw honey. We trust good suppliers. That's what we rely on," said Groeb, whose headquarters is in Onstead, Mich.

Why Remove the Pollen?

Removal of all pollen from honey "makes no sense" and is completely contrary to marketing the highest quality product possible, Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association, told Food Safety News.

"I don't know of any U.S. producer that would want to do that. Elimination of all pollen can only be achieved by ultra-filtering and this filtration process does nothing but cost money and diminish the quality of the honey," Jensen said.

"In my judgment, it is pretty safe to assume that any ultra-filtered honey on store shelves is Chinese honey and it's even safer to assume that it entered the country uninspected and in violation of federal law," he added.

Richard Adee, whose 80,000 hives in multiple states produce 7 million pounds of honey each year, told Food Safety News that "honey has been valued by millions for centuries for its flavor and nutritional value and that is precisely what is completely removed by the ultra-filtration process."

"There is only one reason to ultra-filter honey and there's nothing good about it," he says.

"It's no secret to anyone in the business that the only reason all the pollen is filtered out is to hide where it initially came from and the fact is that in almost all cases, that is China," Adee added.

The Sioux Honey Association, who says it's America's largest supplier, declined repeated requests for comments on ultra-filtration, what Sue Bee does with its foreign honey and whether it's ultra-filtered when they buy it. The co-op markets retail under Sue Bee, Clover Maid, Aunt Sue, Natural Pure and many store brands.

Eric Wenger, director of quality services for Golden Heritage Foods, the nation's third largest packer, said his company takes every precaution not to buy laundered Chinese honey.

"We are well aware of the tricks being used by some brokers to sell honey that originated in China and laundering it in a second country by filtering out the pollen and other adulterants," said Wenger, whose firm markets 55 million pounds of honey annually under its Busy Bee brand, store brands, club stores and food service.

"The brokers know that if there's an absence of all pollen in the raw honey we won't buy it, we won't touch it, because without pollen we have no way to verify its origin."

He said his company uses "extreme care" including pollen analysis when purchasing foreign honey, especially from countries like India, Vietnam and others that have or have had "business arrangements" with Chinese honey producers.

Golden Heritage, Wenger said, then carefully removes all pollen from the raw honey when it's processed to extend shelf life, but says, "as we see it, that is not ultra-filtration.

"There is a significant difference between filtration, which is a standard industry practice intended to create a shelf-stable honey, and ultra-filtration, which is a deceptive, illegal, unethical practice."

Some of the foreign and state standards that are being instituted can be read to mean different things, Wenger said "but the confusion can be eliminated and we can all be held to the same appropriate standards for quality if FDA finally establishes the standards we've all wanted for so long."

Groeb says he has urged FDA to take action as he also "totally supports a standard of Identity for honey. It will help everyone have common ground as to what pure honey truly is!"

What's Wrong With Chinese Honey?

Chinese honey has long had a poor reputation in the U.S., where - in 2001 - the Federal Trade Commission imposed stiff import tariffs or taxes to stop the Chinese from flooding the marketplace with dirt-cheap, heavily subsidized honey, which was forcing American beekeepers out of business.

To avoid the dumping tariffs, the Chinese quickly began transshipping honey to several other countries, then laundering it by switching the color of the shipping drums, the documents and labels to indicate a bogus but tariff-free country of origin for the honey.

Most U.S. honey buyers knew about the Chinese actions because of the sudden availability of lower cost honey, and little was said.

The FDA -- either because of lack of interest or resources -- devoted little effort to inspecting imported honey. Nevertheless, the agency had occasionally either been told of, or had stumbled upon, Chinese honey contaminated with chloramphenicol and other illegal animal antibiotics which are dangerous, even fatal, to a very small percentage of the population.

Mostly, the adulteration went undetected. Sometimes FDA caught it.

In one instance 10 years ago, contaminated Chinese honey was shipped to Canada and then on to a warehouse in Houston where it was sold to jelly maker J.M. Smuckers and the national baker Sara Lee.

By the time the FDA said it realized the Chinese honey was tainted, Smuckers had sold 12,040 cases of individually packed honey to Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Sara Lee said it may have been used in a half-million loaves of bread that were on store shelves.

Eventually, some honey packers became worried about what they were pumping into the plastic bears and jars they were selling. They began using in-house or private labs to test for honey diluted with inexpensive high fructose corn syrup or 13 other illegal sweeteners or for the presence of illegal antibiotics. But even the most sophisticated of these tests would not pinpoint the geographic source of the honey.

Food scientists and honey specialists say pollen is the only foolproof fingerprint to a honey's source.

Federal investigators working on criminal indictments and a very few conscientious packers were willing to pay stiff fees to have the pollen in their honey analyzed for country of origin. That complex, multi-step analysis is done by fewer than five commercial laboratories in the world.

But, Customs and Justice Department investigators told Food Safety News that whenever U.S. food safety or criminal experts verify a method to identify potentially illegal honey - such as analyzing the pollen - the laundering operators find a way to thwart it, such as ultra-filtration.

The U.S. imported 208 million pounds of honey over the past 18 months. Almost 60 percent came from Asian countries - traditional laundering points for Chinese honey. This included 45 million pounds from India alone.

And websites still openly offer brokers who will illegally transship honey and scores of other tariff-protected goods from China to the U.S.

FDA's Lack of Action

The Food and Drug Administration weighed into the filtration issue years ago.

"The FDA has sent a letter to industry stating that the FDA does not consider 'ultra-filtered' honey to be honey," agency press officer Tamara Ward told Food Safety News.

She went on to explain: "We have not halted any importation of honey because we have yet to detect 'ultra-filtered' honey. If we do detect 'ultra-filtered' honey we will refuse entry."

Many in the honey industry and some in FDA's import office say they doubt that FDA checks more than 5 percent of all foreign honey shipments.

For three months, the FDA promised Food Safety News to make its "honey expert" available to explain what that statement meant. It never happened. Further, the federal food safety authorities refused offers to examine Bryant's analysis and explain what it plans to do about the selling of honey it says is adulterated because of the removal of pollen, a key ingredient.

Major food safety standard-setting organizations such as the United Nations' Codex Alimentarius, the European Union and the European Food Safety Authority say the intentional removal of pollen is dangerous because it eliminates the ability of consumers and law enforcement to determine the actual origin of the honey.

"The removal of pollen will make the determination of botanical and geographic origin of honey impossible and circumvents the ability to trace and identify the actual source of the honey," says the European Union Directive on Honey.

The Codex commission's Standard for Honey, which sets principles for the international trade in food, has ruled that "No pollen or constituent particular to honey may be removed except where this is unavoidable in the removal of foreign matter. . ." It even suggested what size mesh to use (not smaller than 0.2mm or 200 micron) to filter out unwanted debris -- bits of wax and wood from the frames, and parts of bees -- but retain 95 percent of all the pollen.

Food Safety News asked Bryant to analyze foreign honey packaged in Italy, Hungary, Greece, Tasmania and New Zealand to try to get a feeling for whether the Codex standards for pollen were being heeded overseas. The samples from every country but Greece were loaded with various types and amounts of pollen. Honey from Greece had none.

You'll Never Know

In many cases, consumers would have an easier time deciphering state secrets than pinning down where the honey they're buying in groceries actually came from.

The majority of the honey that Bryant's analysis found to have no pollen was packaged as store brands by outside companies but carried a label unique to the food chain. For example, Giant Eagle has a ValuTime label on some of its honey. In Target it's called Market Pantry, Naturally Preferred and others. Walmart uses Great Value and Safeway just says Safeway. Wegmans also uses its own name.

Who actually bottled these store brands is often a mystery.

A noteworthy exception is Golden Heritage of Hillsboro, Kan. The company either puts its name or decipherable initials on the back of store brands it fills.

"We're never bashful about discussing the products we put out" said Wenger, the company's quality director. "We want people to know who to contact if they have questions."

The big grocery chains were no help in identifying the sources of the honey they package in their store brands.

For example, when Food Safety News was hunting the source of nine samples that came back as ultra-filtered from QFC, Fred Myer and King Sooper, the various customer service numbers all led to representatives of Kroger, which owns them all. The replies were identical: "We can't release that information. It is proprietary."
Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn't Honey
 

your idol

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i get my honey from a local..always. store bought honey is awful. sure mine doesnt keep as long but i can tell when theres been a lot of honeysuckle, cherry, crabapples or lavender in the area. the taste is always slightly different but always great
 

bertzie

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It's okay, a salesperson or store would never lie about what's in their product. Clearly this study is wrong.
 

H.E.L.Shane

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I prefer sorghum or molasses on my biscuits.

Werd.... Molassas rules..

never liked Bee Vomit

but it does kinda torque me off that China is sneakin' honey into our country..

That little bear deserves to be filled with the real stuff.. dammit
 

No. 44

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My girlfriend's stepfather keeps bees, and we get all of our honey from him. It definitely tastes much better than anything one can buy in the supermarket.

What I don't understand is why the American government allows China to pump tons of illegal honey into the country, while at the same time giving Henry so much grief over a few pieces of legally imported wood. Evidently only some of our laws are enforced...some of the time...and only for some people... :hmm:
 

C Squared

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While I very rarely buy honey, reading this pisses me off.

hey Pres: YOU said you were going to be creating jobs. Here is apparently a BOATLOAD of jobs that should happen. If we have laws already on the books for this type of crap why not just hire people to enforce instead of spending a sh*tload of our tax dollars on another committee to investigate whether or not its viable...
 

Greg's Guitars

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Buy local unfiltered honey from a local beekeeper, I used to work over 100 private hives 20 years ago, works for sweetness as well as helping against the effects of allergies caused by local pollens....
 

PraXis

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We have a flea market that has the best honey I've ever tasted. The store bought junk does not compare and it crystallizes over time.
 

Scooter2112

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attachment.php
 

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upl8tr

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sure mine doesnt keep as long

Well the bad news for you is that it ain't Honey at all, because real Honey doesn't spoil-ever.

It took me while but I found a card on the Griffith institute site.

Carter No: 614j
Handlist description: Pottery vessel
Card/Transcription No: 614j

Clay seal Drab pottery amphora handles bound with rush 18.0 cms
Docket in black upon shoulder.
Contents: apparently some kind of liquid like (?) honey


3300 years old !

Griffith Institute: Carter Archives Quick Search
 

Skintaster

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Fortunately, there's a very good farmers market down the street, and my wife shops for things like honey there.
 

Lurko

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But wait a galldurn minute!!!! I thought the market would automatically make the best quality product ubiquitous, as supply and demand self-regulated the big companies who try to pass off substandard honey and non-honey! ZOMG!

Are you trying to tell me that the whole "let the market decide" theory is utter bullshit and that corporations that aren't held in check by government regulation will lie, cheat, and deceive the very customers they depend upon if it means more profit?!?! THIS CANNOT BE TRUE!!!!
 

Indyclone

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Interesting... I'd agree that how it's been processed should be on the label.
And, of course if it's not 100% honey that's just plain fraudulent.


I also think that even if it were labeled as 75% ultra filtered Chinese honey and 25% HFCS, most people would still buy it if it were 1/3rd the price of 100% "regular" filtered American honey.
 

rcole_sooner

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I couldn't read all them words, there wuz way too many.

But I likes me some Bee Vomits on my Cornbreads and Sopapillas. :dude:
 

coldsteal2

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Fortunately, there's a very good farmers market down the street, and my wife shops for things like honey there.

yea, living in a farm valley its easy to get raw honey
on the comb, every fruit and nut stand in the area
hear has it. Realy its about the same price to
 

KSG_Standard

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But wait a galldurn minute!!!! I thought the market would automatically make the best quality product ubiquitous, as supply and demand self-regulated the big companies who try to pass off substandard honey and non-honey! ZOMG!

Are you trying to tell me that the whole "let the market decide" theory is utter bullshit and that corporations that aren't held in check by government regulation will lie, cheat, and deceive the very customers they depend upon if it means more profit?!?! THIS CANNOT BE TRUE!!!!

You don't really have a solid understanding of economic theory, do you?:laugh2::laugh2::laugh2:
 

Lurko

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I have a VERY solid understanding of it, and that's why it's always great when actual, real life practice shows that it's complete and utter bullshit.

But I guess if you keep hitting the ":laugh2:" button, it will maybe distract you from the fact that your "market worship" is an emperor with no clothes, right? :hmm::cool:
 

SKATTERBRANE

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For the "market" to decide, it has to be well informed. Americans like everything clean and white, so raw honey is not as attractive on the supermarket shelves as the ultra-filtered stuff. I, for one, would want to be informed of the contents and methods of processing relating to my food.

I am NOT the kind of person who would buy the cheaper Chinese shit. I want to buy the REAL honey. I am the kind of person who will seek out the lowest price of the quality honey. Apples to apples, so to speak.

I do not blame China, I blame those brokers in this country who emable this to happen. China does not force us to buy their cheap crap. As long as I am imformed, I will take full responsiblity for my decisions.

Believe me, if I have to choose between $2 ultra filtered Chinese honey, or $10 pure, American honey, I will wait until the $10 is on sale for $8 and then I will buy two to last me until the next sale.

The true cost of buying the cheapest Chinese crap is far more than the price difference between it and buying American. Who do YOU want to support? Do you really want to put your neighbor out of work?

I do not buy cheap 2% maple syrup, I buy 100% pure maple syrup from Vermont. It is 5 tmes the price, but worth it.

Hell we buy "Sunny-D" thinking the 100% vitamin C on the label means it is orange juice!! We are very easily fooled anyway.
 

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