After my post revealing the shocking truth about olive oil adulteration, I received a number of outraged comments along the lines of this one: “Is nothing sacred? First honey, and now this?!!!”
My interest was piqued. Honey? Since when was my honey fake?
Oh, I’d known about the fake “honey” they serve in single-serving packets at restaurants and cafeterias. That’s because I read the ingredients label. Almost all of them fessed up to being what they are — honey-flavored corn syrup. But I didn’t know that the vast majority of the major labels of honey sold in the U.S. aren’t real honey. Thankfully, I always buy mine from one of two local farms. My favorite is from a little old lady who keeps bees just a few miles from me. The other is from a farm in the town next door. According to my recent research, that means I’m safe. But those rows and rows of non-local honey from major distributors found in the supermarket? Those aren’t safe. In fact, they’re almost guaranteed to be fake.
According to the FDA (as well as the food safety divisions of the World Health Organization and the European Commission), the one test that authenticates honey is the presence of pollen. If the liquid gold doesn’t contain pollen, it isn’t honey.
This prompted Food Safety News to test more than 60 different samples of store bought honey for pollen. The results were damning:
76% of grocery store “honey” had no pollen in it!
When buying from drug stores like Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS, the failure rate went as high as 100%!
The good news is that every sample bought from farmers’ markets, co-ops, and natural food stores was loaded with pollen. So, as with olive oil, the real stuff is out there. You just have to make sure it was sourced from a single farm or small co-op of farms.
Why is all the pollen missing?
Good question! When asked why the pollen is removed, Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association said this:
“I don’t know of any U.S. producer that would want to do that. Elimination of all pollen can only be achieved by ultra-filtering and this filtration process does nothing but cost money and diminish the quality of the honey,” Jensen said.
“In my judgment, it is pretty safe to assume that any ultra-filtered honey on store shelves is Chinese honey and it’s even safer to assume that it entered the country uninspected and in violation of federal law,” he added.
This idea is confirmed by Richard Adee, a U.S. honey producer who keeps 80,000 hives. He said:
“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.”
In the normal honey-making process, honey is filtered to remove bee parts, waxes, and other debris. This routine filtration is no cause for alarm. Almost all the pollen remains intact in the honey, and it helps make a slightly more shelf-stable product.
But when you purposefully use ultra-filtration — a high-temperature, high-pressure extraction process — you remove all the pollen. Without the pollen, the origin of the honey is untraceable.
Why are these companies bothering to hide the honey’s origin?
Because it’s likely to have come from China, and Chinese honey is cheap, diluted with high-fructose corn syrup and sweeteners, and tainted with crazy chemicals and antibiotics.
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.
And, get this! The FDA only tests about 5% of imported honey. So who knows how much more of this tainted honey is being smuggled into the U.S.?