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UK’s honey fraud, explained

The European Commission has uncovered the contamination of honey packaged in the United Kingdom with cheap sugar syrup.

The action was taken by the commission’s directorate general for health and food safety, and it involved a collaborative effort with 18 EU countries, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), and the EU’s anti-fraud office (Olaf). 

Out of the 320 honey samples tested, 147 were found to be suspicious. 

Ten honey samples from the UK failed the tests.

Although they may have been blended or packaged in Britain, the honey likely originated overseas. 

The report indicates that honey imported from the UK had a suspicion rate of 100 percent, with the JRC suggesting that the honey may have been produced in other countries before being processed in the UK and re-exported to the EU.

This is not the first time that tests have indicated that UK shoppers may be victims of honey fraud. 

In 2020, a leading German laboratory found that eight of the nine samples tested were non-compliant.

However, supermarkets say they regularly test honey and audit supply lines. 

READ MORE: Honey DNA analysis enhances human understanding of bees and environment

UK government investigation

The UK government said it is investigating the results, but officials suggest that there is no risk to food safety.

Olaf said such practices defraud consumers and put honest producers in jeopardy as they face unfair competition from operators who can slash prices thanks to illicit, cheap ingredients.

Lynne Ingram, a master beekeeper at Wesley Cottage Bees in Somerset, has joined a group of beekeepers calling for better information for shoppers.

 She suggested that shoppers should choose honey that states the country of origin on the label and ideally source it from traditional local beekeepers. 

Arturo Carrillo, the Mexico-based coordinator of the international Honey Authenticity Network, which has conducted tests on UK supermarket honey indicating adulteration, said the UK is flooded with very cheap adulterated honey imported from China, and that the British authorities have been reluctant to accept and address this problem.

READ MORE: When honey ceases to flow

Disputed claims

The UK government disputes claims that honey imports are adulterated on an industrial scale. It has said that enforcement is “fit for purpose,” and there is “insufficient evidence” to date to indicate fraud. 

Retailers and the honey industry have disputed test results, and government officials say more advanced testing technology is required. 

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the UK government takes any type of food fraud seriously and that they will examine the results of the new study to establish whether they are indicative of non-compliance.

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