US Honey Producers Concerned About Sweetened Substitutes
April 9, 2014

US Honey Producers Concerned About Sweetened Substitutes

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Honey is an important food staple, with more than 400 million pounds being consumed annually in the US. However, less than half of this amount – 149 million pounds – actually came from honey produced in the United States last year, according to USDA data.

Now, the FDA is dipping its hand into the pot, drafting new guidance on what honey is and how it should be labeled. Under the guidance, the food regulator maintains that food companies and other producers who add sweeteners to honey have to alert consumers by labeling their products as a “blend.”

This comes as growing concerns from US producers that honey and honey products are not really honey at all. The American Beekeeping Federation and several other related groups petitioned the FDA, seeking for a standard definition for the natural sweetener to promote fair trade. They allege that manufacturers that add sugar, corn syrup or other sweeteners may be mislabeling their products as pure honey.

While the agency denied the request from the ABF and others, it did say it was willing to look at the labeling on honey and honey products.

Based on what was found, the FDA guidance aims “to advise the regulated food industry on the proper labeling of honey and honey products to help ensure that honey and honey products are not adulterated or misbranded."

But how does one tell if what he or she is buying is the real deal or a cheap knockoff?

One way to tell is that pure honey is generally more expensive than ones mixed with corn syrup or sugar. In 2013, honey prices reached a record high of $2.12 per pound, according to USDA data. Also, check the nutrition label; knockoff brands should list all added ingredients on the label. If there is no ingredient label, then the product should be pure honey. FDA notes that food products that contain a single ingredient do not need an ingredient label.

As part of its investigation, the FDA inspected imported honey to see whether it was “adulterated” with corn or cane sugars. In the past, the agency had detained honey imports from places like Brazil and Mexico that did contain ingredients other than honey, including some that had drug residues.

The FDA added in its guidance a list of questions and answers to help manufacturers keep in line with what honey is and how it should be marketed.

According to the National Honey Board, honey is “the natural sweet substance produced by honey bees from the nectar of plants or secretions of living parts of plants.” Other public references refer to honey as “a thick, sweet, syrupy substance that bees make as food from the nectar of flowers and store in honeycombs.” The FDA has concluded that these definitions accurately reflect the common usage of the term “honey.”

The FDA maintains that a food that contains only honey must be named “honey.” It notes that the food can contain the floral source of the honey in its name, such as “Clover Honey” or “Orange Blossom Honey.” However, if a manufacturer chooses to list the floral source, it must be the chief floral source of the honey.

All foods that contain honey and an added sweetener should be labeled accordingly. For example: if the product has more honey than sugar, it must be labeled “blend of honey and sugar;” if there is more sugar than honey in the product, it must be labeled “blend of sugar and honey.”

The FDA goes on to say that honey which does not contain any added sweeteners but does contain other flavoring, must also prominently display that information on the label. If a honey product is flavored with natural raspberry, then the product must be named “raspberry flavored honey.”

The FDA is giving manufacturers 60 days to comment on the draft guidance before a final draft is published. However, once the draft becomes an FDA guideline, the agency maintains that it will not be mandatory.