The Facts about Grocery Store Honey

Jarring my own honey supply.

Jarring my own honey supply.

Two weeks ago our local Fox News channel did a three-part investigation about honey quality and it was THIS video that really got me thinking.  In the video (which I suggest you watch), they tested 5 brands of honey off the grocery store shelf.  They tested one identified as clover honey, one labeled as “organic rainforest honey,” one local jar, and the Spartan and Meijer brands (local brands).  They sent the honey to Texas A&M to analyze the pollen content because this is  how one would determine the make-up of honey.  Here were the results:

– Clover honey – no evidence of clover pollen

– Rain forest honey – little to no evidence of pollen from any rain forest plants (More about “organic” honey in a future post)

– Local honey – mostly legit, but had a variety of pollen, which suggested they had mixed honey from different locations and/or seasons

– Meijer and Spartan Brands – zero pollen. No pollen at all (it had been filtered out), so they were unable to make any assumptions. They literally put a question mark graphic on the screen.

This left me with two thoughts (well, two thoughts that I’m going to address here): why would a company ultra-filter their honey and why didn’t the news story address this question?

The conspiracy theorist in me assumed the ultra-filtering was probably bad and Spartan and Meijer are local companies, so the news channel made a political decision to not trash the local businesses on air. They had no problem suggesting that the local honey was questionable because it had a variety of pollen in it, however.

So, I spent days and days reading online about commercial honey producers, honey importation, honey regulations, testing, and inspections, and filtered honey and here’s my short take-away (because the issue is enormous)…

The reason to ultra-filter honey is two-fold: it attempts to clean up any “others” that may be in the honey besides pollen (chemicals, antibiotics, pesticides, treatments, etc) and it ensures that tracing the honey’s origin is impossible.

Do you know who uses a lot of chemicals in their honey, always ultra-filters, and sells honey to the U.S. on the cheap? China. Does ultra-filtered honey guarantee your honey is from China? No. But there’s a pretty good chance.

“There is only one reason to ultra-filter honey and there’s nothing good about it. 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.” (Food Safety News)

Why does that matter? Because Chinese honey producers are under far fewer guidelines about what they can and can’t treat their hives with. Also, Chinese honey producers typically cut their honey with sweeteners like corn syrup. You’ll know your honey has been cut with corn syrup if it never crystallizes.

In 2001, Chinese beekeepers experienced an epidemic of the foulbrood disease that ransacked their hives. They fought off the disease with strong animal antibiotics, including chloramphenicol — a carcinogenic antibiotic that’s been banned by the FDA. As recently as 2010, the FDA confiscated $32,000 worth of imported Chinese honey that was contaminated with this drug. (Food Renegade)

Wouldn’t someone in the United States stop this madness? Well, currently only 5% of imported honey is tested, so if you are interested in making a lot of money on a cheap, mislabeled product – honey is the place. There are few enforced regulations about testing, quality, ingredients, and labeling. For example, in Europe, honey bottles must be labeled with the word “pollen” if the honey isn’t filtered, that way the consumer knows if they are buying filtered honey or not, and according to the FDA, if the honey doesn’t include pollen, then it isn’t honey. However, if you read the ingredients on a Meijer-brand, pollen-free bottle the ingredients say only “honey.”

Real honey.

Real honey.

This is not the the worryings of a food conspiracy theorist. Spend some time on google and you’ll find no shortage of information. And, in the meantime, buy from local beekeepers. If you can’t, look for the “True Source” stamp to ensure you’re buying the good stuff.

“Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey” (Food Safety News)

Tainted Chinese Honey May be on U.S. Store Shelves” (Time)

“Your Honey Isn’t Honey” (Food Renegade)

“Asian Honey, Banned in Europe, Is Flooding U.S. Grocery Shelves” (Food Safety News)

“Is Honey You Buy At The Store Really What It Says It Is?” (MI Beekeepers)

A Collection of Articles about Chinese Honey (Huffington Post)

Honey Labeling Laws

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