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The Legacy of Honey-Gate!

China's billion dollar fake Honey industry!

In 2008, Project Honeygate started, and ended up becoming the largest case of food fraud in US history. The US government discovered that 85-90% of the honey that the largest importer of honey was bringing in was part of criminal schemes, i.e. Chinese imported honey.

Industrial farming has reduced the amount of pollinating plants, therefore causing the loss of 50% of bee colonies per year in the US alone. The decrease in colonies, combined with the high demand of natural honey-based products, should have caused a shortage in honey. However, in 2018 the US actually had a surplus of honey due to the high volumes of Chinese honey being imported. This might sound like a saving grace, but Chinese beekeepers have been discovered to be cutting their honey with products such as corn syrup, sugar cane, and rice syrup to earn a higher profit on a cheaper product. These syrups don’t exactly qualify these products as ‘clean’ or ‘natural’. As stated by the Beekeepers, “we need to protect our consumers and tell them what they’re paying for.” This discovery of adulterated honey led to a full-blown government investigation of the market that left a trail of scandal all throughout the value chain.

We’ve repeatedly heard how transparency in food is becoming increasingly important, and instances like the nationwide food fraud found during Honeygate are examples of the driving forces behind this new initiative. Honey fraud can take different forms. For instance, by selling cheaper multifloral honey as single source honey at a higher selling point; by adding sugar syrups to increase the volume, or by harvesting it ahead of time and then drying it artificially in large “honey factories”, to cut time and costs. In all cases, the final product is far from what consumers think they’re buying, as well as from the EU’s legal definition of honey.

The EU defines honey as “the natural sweet substance produced by Apis mellifera bees from the nectar of plants […], which the bees collect, transform by combining with specific substances of their own, deposit, dehydrate, store and leave in honeycombs to ripen and mature”. Honey production in Spain dropped 14.08% since 2018, the country’s agriculture ministry warned. A decline in bees, which pollinate between 5% and 8% of global food production, poses a serious threat the food chain. EURACTIV’s partner EFE agro reports. Low levels of chloramphenicol, a potentially harmful antibiotic that cannot legally be added to food, have been found in honey imported from China, More than 50 containers of bulk Chinese honey have been detained at US ports in the investigation, the US Customs Service and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in a joint announcement. The agencies said the honey allegedly had been shipped through other countries in an illegal effort to evade US anti-dumping duties.

In rare cases, the use of chloramphenicol can lead to idiosyncratic aplastic anemia, a potentially life-threatening condition, the agencies said. The problem is China’s production method. Unripe honey is harvested when it is still a watery soup with high water contents. It is then artificially dried, resin residues are eliminated by filtering, pollen may be removed or added to mask country of origin, and syrups are added to meet the different market prices.

“Unripe honey production implies faster and higher levels of production of a product that does not meet the definition of honey (fraud),” said Norberto Garcia, president of the International Organisation of Honey Exporters (IHEO).

The Argentinian professor has studied the phenomenon of honey fraud closely and claims it costs about $600 million a year in income losses to honest beekeepers worldwide.

“There is a roof for honey production and we have reached that roof in many cases, but demand doesn’t stop increasing.” Honey adulteration, or fake honey, not only hurts consumers, it hurts honeybee keepers as well as their honeybees. Therefore, the recognition and protection of honey is vital. The authenticity of the origins of honey is of great importance to consumers, as well as local producers.Demand for honey has been steadily rising--in 2018, 575 million pounds of honey were consumed, a 40 percent increase from 1998.

At the same time bee populations are collapsing, with 60 percent of hives tended by beekeepers were lost between 2018 and 2022 alone.China and Turkey, Remain the main honey fakers in 2023. “With 175,000 tons of honey imported per year, the Old Continent is the world's second-largest importer of honey after the United States,” Most fake honey is brought from China (74%) and Turkey (14 out of 15).


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