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International Honey Market

- April 1, 2016 - Ron Phipps - (excerpt)



At the end of February, 2016, we received an official letter from U.S. government authorities confirming that the application of resin technology to honey results in creating products which cannot appropriately be labeled or marketed as honey. This is a major development, as it helps to clarify the status of a technology which, it is believed, has been widely used in recent years to disguise honey origin.

The American honey industry is acutely aware of the grave threat imposed upon the market by phenomena associated with the circumvention and adulteration of honey. Prices in the American and international honey markets have been collapsing, to the distress of beekeepers and honest honey exporters, importers and packers throughout America and other countries. During the past 12-14 months honey prices for many important and traditional origins have eroded by 40%-50% of their previous levels.

The balance and integration of the incentives to produce and consume honey have not been reached. Instead a grave imbalance persists, which distresses and threatens the survival of beekeepers throughout America, Canada, Argentina and Europe, putting in jeopardy agriculture, agricultural production, food security, food safety and the sustainability of ecological systems whose fragility and vulnerability are appreciated now more than ever before.

A Point of Inflection in the rise of honey prices was reached in the 4th quarter of 2014. The honey market urgently needs a Point of Stability.

Resin technology

Resin technology has been legally and properly applied to different types of foods to remove various contaminants. But its application to honey is novel. The Chinese manufacturers of the technology began to openly and aggressively offer the technology to producers and exporters of honey about 2-3 years ago. Resin technology can 1) disguise country of origin as assessed by usual scientific methodologies; 2) remove not only pollen but also antibiotics and residues, thereby reducing risks to importers, exporters and packers; 3) remove chemical components which give color to honey, therewith allowing tropical and semi-tropical countries to export large amounts of white honey (Remember when Indonesia, prior to the successful work of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), exported to the U.S. 100% white honey); and 4) remove chemical components of honey which add flavor and aroma, the components which led to the honey’s award in 2015 for Flavor of the Year. By removing or reducing flavor components, such manufactured honey is easy to blend as “hamburger helper” into honey. As an illustration, “sunflower honey” has been reported to have flavor profiles that were not sunflower and which crystallized like rapeseed honey.

The manufacturers, users and sellers of the resin machinery have claimed that resin technology was FDA approved. A letter from the FDA clarified this as follows:

“[The]..resins may be safely used as articles or components of articles intended for repeated use in producing …food, in accordance with …Federal Regulations….the regulation does not address the use of the resin for any specific food products or contaminants, including carbendazim in honey, nor is such specific use elsewhere addressed in FDA regulations.”

“…calling the product that has been treated with the resin technology simply “honey” would not accurately identify the food generally understood to be honey. The product should be labeled with a name that sufficiently describes its characterizing properties in a way that distinguishes it from honey which has not been treated with resin technology.”

 The FDA issued draft guidance on April 9, 2014, for the proper labelling of honey and honey products. The FDA is working on finalizing this guidance and is accepting comments.

The above clarification on the use of resin technology is of cardinal importance. Those who genuinely want a level playing field which incentivizes producers and consumers need enforcement of this ruling that requires special labelling for the product that results from the use of resin technology on honey.

New methods of honey analysis and authenticity testing

Currently there are serious discussions regarding cooperative and collaborative international scientific efforts to establish a broad global data base of authentic honey samples reflecting the multiple variables which determine the chemical profiles of honey. American beekeepers are participating in providing authenticated samples.

In an Era of Transparency, as Dr. Daberkow and I described in our Chapter in the new edition of The Hive and the Honey Bee, these international collaborative efforts fulfill and further the FDA Research Protocol for Honey issued by Dr. Michael A. McLaughlin, Samuel W. Page, and Jerome A. Schneidman of the USFDA. Concurrent with the effort to establish that data base are efforts to establish more sophisticated scientific methodologies to better assess and determine country of origin, adulteration, the use of resin technology, and whether or not the honey has been ripened by bees (mature honey).

The Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Technology applied to honey is one of the most promising and sophisticated scientific techniques being developed and investigated not only by…