News 24.03.2023

Half of EU's imported honey supply suspected to be fake

  • Misleading product labelling
  • Transparency and food safety
AdobeStock_Alessandro Cristiano

A significant proportion of honey imported into Europe is suspected of being fraudulent, but often goes undetected. foodwatch demands better detection methods and transparency for consumers.

According to the report entitled "From the Hives" published by the European Commission, a significant proportion of honey imported into Europe is suspected of being fraudulent, but often goes undetected. Of the 320 batches of honey tested by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) laboratory for the Commission, 46% were not really honey. They mostly contain sugar syrups made from rice, wheat or sugar beet, which is forbidden according to the EU honey directive, yet these products reach consumers.

Transparency for consumers now! 

Controls and sanctions are the responsibility of the Member States. foodwatch demands better detection methods and transparency for consumers. The authorities must dedicate resources commensurate with the challenge and make it their priority to inform consumers of the fraud. 

Although these illegal pots of honey are sold in supermarkets, no information is given to citizens on the products concerned. This lack of transparency on fraudulent food must be urgently corrected. fraud is a crime and it must be talked about openly to ensure citizens know what is happening with their food.

New honey-testing method shows shocking results

National control services, but also private laboratories, have failed to detect the fraud because their means are insufficient, and they do not (yet) use the new method developed by the JRC which allows to spot far more adulterations on imported fake honey. This rate of 46% is considerably higher than during the previous EU-wide coordinated control plan in 2015-17, when only 14% of the samples analysed did not comply with the reference criteria established to assess the authenticity of honey.

The problem remains that this new methodology is not yet recognised and used by the official laboratories in the Member States or by the private laboratories that carry out the tests for the industry. This is clearly the next step that needs to take place.

EU’s barriers against food fraud are leaking

While the European Commission report does not claim to be a thorough reflection of the honey market in the EU, it does give a good insight into the extent of honey adulteration in honey imports from third countries. The samples were taken mainly in the major ports where the fraudulent products arrive before travelling on European routes, such as Antwerp, Hamburg, Barcelona, Le Havre, and the Polish-Ukrainian border. Of the 95 importers targeted, two thirds had imported at least once a batch of honey suspected of being adulterated with sugar syrups.

Europe imports 175,000 tonnes of honey per year, making it the world's second-largest importer of honey after the United States, to cover 40% of its consumption. The European Union is therefore highly dependent on these imports from third countries. On average, honey imported into Europe costs €2.17 per kilo, whereas sugar syrups made from rice cost between €0.40 and €0.60 per kilo. Fraudulent dilution of honey with sugar syrups pays big dividends, and the risk of getting caught is small.

Fraud is massive and right in front of our eyes! But it remains a taboo. We want the means of control to be equal to the challenge and a harmonised methodology to identify food fraud.
Ingrid Kragl Media Director of foodwatch France

If 46% of imported honey is potentially fraudulent, this means that more than 80,000 tonnes of fake honey are sold and consumed in Europe every year. We are talking here only about imports from countries outside Europe. This does not include intra-European fraud, of course, which adds to this figure. All of this is completely opaque to consumers.

In France, where foodwatch has been campaigning on the issue for several years, more than 43,000 people have signed the petition calling for transparency on food fraud.