According to the standards of the Codex Alimentarius, honey is a natural sweet substance made from the nectar of plants or secretions of living parts of the plants. It is stored and dehydrated by honey bees to improve its nutritional properties and make it consumable for humans.
Honey has a long history of being used for its anti-aging properties, enhancing the immune system, killing bacteria, and treating bronchial phlegm and sore throats. According to literature, honey also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer properties against breast and cervical cancer, prostate cancer, and osteosarcoma. Honey can also be applied topically to help with eczema, lip sores, sterile and infected wounds, genital lesions, burns, surgery scars, and athletes foot.
Due to its high quality and limited availability, honey is vulnerable to adulteration and mislabeling. Its therapeutic properties make it a target for economic adulteration. Rising concerns about health make honey a valuable commodity, which puts it at risk for adulteration.
Food adulteration is the act of intentionally decreasing the quality of food. This can be done by adding or swapping low-quality materials, or by eliminating various important ingredients. In fact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) terms these as "Economically motivated adulteration (EMA)" - which is defined as the “fraudulent, intentional substitution or addition of a substance for the purpose of increasing the apparent value of the product or reducing the cost of its production, i.e., for economic gain”.
HOW IS HONEY ADULTERATED?
Several types of adulteration have been identified in the honey industry, these include:
a) Dilution of honey
Adulteration of honey by extending or diluting it with cheaper sweeteners is common practice in the industry. Commonly identified sweeteners include corn syrup, cane syrup, rice syrup, palm sugar, invert sugar, and beet syrups.
b) Blending of honey
Adulteration of pure honey with cheaper, less nutritious honey has become a major problem in the honey industry in recent years. In China and Venezuela, a well-known fraud in the honey industry consists of blending costly acacia honey with rape honey which is cheaper and looks similar, in order to increase profits.
c) Sugar feeding
Supplemental feeding of honey bees with sugar syrups may be necessary to ensure that colonies receive the required nutrients. This type of feeding can be important to sustaining colonies, providing sustenance during the winter and early spring before honey production begins. Intensive supplemental feeding of honey bees can lead to a product similar to honey that has been diluted with added sugar syrups. This is because the sugar profile of honey produced with intensive supplemental feeding is different from that of pure honey, and the natural nutritional properties of honey are diluted. Because of these changes in quality, we consider intensive supplemental feeding of honey bees to be another form of honey adulteration.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, ten chemicals are approved for use in honey bee colonies, three of which are antimicrobials. The use of approved drugs includes a required withdrawal time, which refers to the period of time during and after treatment in which honey from the treated hive should not be collected for consumption. The process of keeping drug residues out of the human food supply is important. Unapproved drugs or those used without an appropriate withdrawal period can result in antibiotic and other drug residues being present in honey.
e) Masking the true country of origin
In recent years, there have been several instances of honey being falsely labeled with a country of origin. This enables honey producers from certain countries to avoid additional testing or tariffs that may be imposed when importing into other countries. Transshipment or honey laundering, which involves shipping honey through intermediate countries and subsequently re-labeling it, is one method for masking the true country of origin. Another method is removal of pollen through honey filtering, since pollen can be used to identify the geographic origin of honey.
WHEN ADULTERATION AFFECTS YOU AND ME
When cheaper and lower-grade elements are added to an original product, it can threaten the consumers' health. The adverse health impacts of consuming adulterated honey on human health are not completely established. However preliminary studies suggest that adulterated honey can cause a number of negative health effects in humans, including gastrointestinal problems, brain and liver damage, and kidney failure.
DECREASED ANTIBACTERIAL BENEFITS: Honey has an antibacterial effect and can help fight common cold and some digestive problems. However, the mixture of inverted sugar or jaggery can restrict these antibacterial properties and lead to stomach disorders.
CAUSES DIABETES AND OBESITY: Consumption of glucose from sugar-adulterated honey may elevate insulin secretion. The increase in blood sugar could lead a reduction in insulin-sensitivity - leading to type II diabetes, abdominal weight gain, and obesity. Sugars of glucose and fructose produces free radicals through various mechanisms in the body, which can lead to chronic diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and coronary artery disease. In a study done on male rats, the ones fed with adulterated honey showed early mortality and many abnormalities developed compared to rats fed with natural honey. The abnormalities in the adulterated honey group represent significant increases in body weight, fat pads, and BMI, as well as drastic increases in serum lipid profile (triglycerides, cholesterol, and glucose level).
MAY LEAD TO KIDNEY DAMAGE: In a 2012 study, rats that were fed sugar-adulterated honey showed signs of kidney damage, including an increased creatinine and urea levels in their blood. A follow-up study in 2018 found that rats that consumed adulterated honey for 16 weeks had significant kidney damage, compared to those that did not consume the adulterated honey.
CAUSES LIVER DAMAGE: In the 2018 study, there were also abnormal difference in the appearance of the rats' livers including discolouration. The weight of the kidneys and lungs from rats fed with adulterated honey was significantly higher compared to control rats, regardless of weight differentiation - this is a sign of fatty liver and dysfunction.
CAN CAUSE CANCER: Antibiotic residues are found in honey due to the use of antibiotics in apiculture for the treatment of bacterial diseases. These residues typically originate from the environment and improper beekeeping practices. Some of the most commonly used antibiotics include tetracycline, nitrofurans, oxytetracycline and chloramphenicol. The exposure to antibiotic residues has been linked to various hazards, including microbiological risks, carcinogenicity, reproductive effects, and teratogenicity. For example, drugs like nitrofurans have been shown to cause cancer in humans. Additionally, some drugs can produce reproductive and teratogenic effects at very low doses.
The below table summarises the studies done on commonly use adulteration sugars and their adverse effects on our health:
WHEN ADULTERATION AFFECTS BEEKEEPERS
It is no secret that bees all over the world are struggling against a number of stresses, including insecticides, parasites, monoculture, and climate change. A decline in production levels poses a threat not just to honey farmers, but also to the European agriculture industry as a whole. Pollinators, including honeybees, bumblebees and wild bees, contribute at least 22bn each year to the industry and ensure pollination for over 80% of crops and wild plants in Europe.
From Food And Agriculture Organization Data
In accordance with basic economic principles of supply and demand, prices are expected to rise as diminishing supply fails to meet increasing demand. However, the drops in production due to lower harvests and loss of beekeepers have not stopped the volumes from increasing or the prices from dropping.
According to reports, the majority of adulterated honey comes from China. Honey exports from China have increased 88% between 2000 and 2014, while the number of honeybee colonies has only increased by 21%. This discrepancy is likely due to adulteration.
According to data from 2011, the average bulk price for honey was about USD3.80/kg. In contrast, the price for high fructose corn syrup was about USD0.70/kg and the price for refined beet sugar was about USD1.20/kg. Given that these adulteration sugars are 3 to 5 times cheaper than honey, their use can lead to a significant economic advantage. According to a 2020 paper by Copa-Cogeca, an EU farmers' cooperative, prices for imported Chinese honey were imported at USD 1.30/kg. In the EU alone, the average cost of production is USD 3.90/kg.
This adulterated honey has serious consequences for beekeepers, local ecosystems and consumers. These cheap imports drive the prize of honey down making it very difficult for beekeepers to make ends meet. Some beekeepers find it more worthwhile to have their bees focus on pollination rather than honey production. It's a vicious cycle that leads to less authentic honey in the market.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, pollinators like bees and other insects are responsible for 35% of the world's food crops. As other species decline, honey bees are becoming increasingly more important for pollination. If the economics of beekeeping no longer make sense, there is no incentive to continue rearing these bees or reconstituting the colonies after the losses.
For us at Anaya, our mission has always been about providing clean and authentic honey. Sourcing for unadulterated honey has been a serious challenge we did not expect to face. There are so many variables to consider and everything must come into play. It is an on-going journey but we endeavor to continue working directly with the beekeepers, understand their difficulties, and support the continuous education of bee pollination. In the process, we continue to deliver honey with their full nutritional benefits to as many discerning consumers as possible for better health. Find out more at www.gtclife.com.