September 07, 2016
At the top of the fraudulent food lists and database, alongside olive oil cut with soybean oil, recent season wines being sold as vintage and mislabeled fish – is honey.
Here’s why honey is on the list.
The big supermarkets want consistency. Buyers want year-round supply at consistently low prices of products that have a consistent look and taste. For processed food coming off a factory line that can be challenging enough, but for natural products, where each unit is unique, that's a major problem.
To handle natural variations, supermarkets stipulate strict store specifications. Requirements as to acceptable size, blush and blemish limits. Some of these limits are to ensure damaged product doesn’t make it to the shelves, but most are cosmetic requirements so that produce displays are attractive to shoppers.
Honey is no different than any other agricultural product. Honey varies by biological, botanical and regional sources. From white to black, runny to solid. Even honey from the same hive in the same season can vary depending on where the bees foraged.
So how do all those Teddy Bears end up looking the same every time you shop? Welcome to Grade A Fancy honey.
The focus of Grade A Fancy Honey is on clarity and the absence of particles. To meet these demands in volume, large commercial suppliers buy honey from all over the world in bulk, blend it, heat it and filter it, until it is crystal clear and consistent. Not only is ultra-filtered honey stripped of all its goodness but the specification is cosmetic. Grade A Fancy specifications don’t test for contaminants or additives (such as pesticides or high fructose corn syrup), and there is no consideration given to the biological, botanical or regional sourcing.
So remember Grade A Fancy honey is about clarity? Well the result of that is the pollen gets filtered out. According to a Food Safety News study in 2011, over three-quarters of US supermarket honey is so filtered and processed it no longer contains any pollen (1).
If it looks like honey and it tastes like honey, then it's still honey, right? Well.... the FDA say 'no', but the US Honey board says 'yes'. To be fair, I think it's still honey, just not what I'd feed my kids. Not only is the pollen an essential part of the goodness of the honey, without the pollen it’s impossible to pin point the source of the honey. This means big commercial producers can buy honey from anywhere. Over the last few years there have been outcry in the US with contaminated Chinese honey being illegally imported via India and Vietnam where ultra-filtration can take place and make it difficult to know the source. While not all processed supermarket honey is made with contaminated Chinese honey – the point is, it’s hard to know, and often the ultra-filtered stuff is processed that way so we can't know.
Before we point the finger too much at imported honey, it’s not like we don’t contribute to honey contamination ourselves. 2/3 of bee colonies in the USA travel the country pollinating crops – pollination services are approximately 655 million, over double the value of our honey industry which is takes in around 320 million annually. In other words, bees are working as commercial pollinators more than they are honey makers. This makes perfect sense when you think about what our pollinator bees do. Many of our crops can’t exist without bees. Without bees we'd be devastatingly short of fruits, vegetables, oils, grains to feed cattle and fiber for materials. Whilst gains are being made in the knowledge of the range of effects pesticides have on bees and the timing of application in order to minimize harm to the bees – but do you really want to eat that honey?
A study carried out by The National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit at the University of Worcester, found that the colonies of urban hives were healthier and more productive than their rural counterparts. Whilst this may sound somewhat counter-intuitive that our city bees fare better than their rural counterparts, the researchers suggest that urban bees not only have a more varied diet but they also ingest fewer pesticides (2). Other studies agree that pesticide-covered mono-crop diets often need to be supplemented with sugar water and their immune systems are not as strong as bees who get pollen from a variety of sources (3).
What does this mean for our honey? 62% of conventional honey sold in the USA contains glyphosate (main ingredient in the herbicide RoundUp) above minimum established limits. And if you think your Organic honey is pesticide-free, think again. 45% of honey labelled organic also contained glyphosate (4). Bees will generally hang out within a couple of miles of their hive, but in several studies bees have been found to fly 'as far as they have to' even up to 17 miles foraging for food. It's ultimately very difficult to control where a bee goes (5)
It's not just farming that's causing insecticides to get into the honey. In a 2008 Penn State University Presentation at the National American Chemical Society in Philadelphia, reported that they found at least 70 different pesticides in the hives in the study. Fluvalinate and Coumaphos were found in every single wax sample – which are commonly used by beekeepers to control varroa mite in the hive (6).
Honey is more expensive than sugar so I understand the commercial motivation to strip the hive of all the honey and feed the bees sugar water. However, just like us, bees are healthier eating their own nutritionally rich honey. Honey contains the critical natural and diverse sources of carbohydrate and protein needed for bees to remain healthy and thus not become reliant on bee medicinals which are now commonly used in hives in conjunction with refined sugar and corn syrup.
Supplementing beehives in this way leads to weakened colonies and may be a contributing factor to bee colony collapse (7) but not only is leaving honey in the hive for the bees better for the bees, but it’s also better for the honey. As with pesticides, what the bees ingest gets into the honey. There are some spectacular demonstrations of this. From French beekeepers who were completely stumped by the rainbow colors of their honey only to find the biohazard factory nearby had bees feasting of M&M residue from used chocolate factory containers left in the open. Similarly hives near a maraschino factory in Boston produced bright red maraschino cherry honey! In studies using honey for wound care (a common use of manuka honey) honey from bees fed with sugar was less effective in reducing inflammation than honey from bees that produce floral honey (8).
Fortunately there are some beekeepers who are making the right choices for the bees, the environment, and your health. At Tahi Estate, beekeeping principles are as nature intended. Tahi respect and care for their bees. This means the bees aren't fed sugar water, corn syrup or antibiotics, and enough honey is left in the hives to keep them well fed over winter. 100% natural free from GMOs and GE, no added sugar, no added water and no nasty chemicals.
Tahi Manuka honey is truly nature's gift. Made from the nectar of New Zealand's native Manuka flowers, it has known unique qualities and has been used in traditional medicine for years. Tahi Manuka Honey is UMF certified to ensure genuine tested manuka honey. UMF is the global standard that measures the purity and quality of Manuka, which, as scientific research shows has unique naturally-occurring antibacterial properties not found in other honeys. Buy genuine Tahi Manuka Honey in the USA from The Kiwi Importer.
(1) Food Safety News (2011) Tests show most store honey isn't honey. Online at: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/tests-show-most-store-honey-isnt-honey/#.V9FwsE0rLIU
(2) University of Worcester (2010) Honey bees find richer diversity of pollen in urban areas. Online at: http://www.worcester.ac.uk/discover/honey-bees-find-richer-diversity-of-pollen-in-urban-areas.html
(3) Huang Z. (2012) Pollen nutrition affects honey bee resistance. Terrestrial Arthropod Reviews 5: 175-189.
(4) Rubio F, Guo E, Kamp L (2014) Survey of Glyphosate Residues in Honey, Corn and Soy Products. Journal of Environmental & Analytical Toxicology 5:249.
(5) Traynor, J (2002) How far do bees fly? one mile? two? seven? And why? Bee Culture: June. Online at: http://beesource.com/point-of-view/joe-traynor/how-far-do-bees-fly-one-mile-two-seven-and-why/
(6) Penn State University (2008) Presentation at National American Chemical Society Philadelphia
(7) vanEngelsdorp D, Evans JD, Saegerman C, Mullin C, Haubruge E et al. (2009) Colony Collapse Disorder: A Descriptive Study. PLOS ONE (8): e6481. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006481.
(8) Kandil A, El-Banby M, Abdel-Wahed K, Abou-Sehly G et al. (1987) Healing effect of true floral and false non-floral honey on medical wounds. Journal of Drug Research (Cairo) 17: (1-2): 71-75.
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