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FDA: 10% of imported honey is economically adulterated

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After testing samples of more than 140 honey shipments imported to the United States, FDA found that 10% of the honey products contained undeclared added sweeteners.

As much as 10% of honey imported to the United States contains undeclared added sweeteners, according to findings of a sampling assignment of honey shipments by FDA—dubbed by the agency as “economically motivated adulteration.”

In 2021 and 2022, FDA collected and tested 144 samples of imported honey from bulk and retail shipments from 32 countries to determine whether the products were adulterated by the addition of less-expensive, undeclared added sweeteners, such as cane or corn syrup.

The findings, which were announced by FDA in December 2022, showed 14 of the samples met FDA’s criteria for “economically motivated adulteration.” Per FDA, economically motivated adulteration happens when a valuable ingredient or part of a food is intentionally left out, taken out or substituted, or when a substance is added to a food, with the goal of making it appear better or of greater value.

“When companies add undeclared cheaper sweeteners to honey, such as syrups derived from cane, corn, rice or sugar beets—and label the product as ‘honey’—they do so to lower their production costs, but consumers still pay the full price for what is deceptively labeled as honey, with the additional profit going to the companies,” the agency wrote of the findings.

Products that contain honey and other sweeteners are required, per the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic (FD&C) Act, to be labeled as a “blend,” and not as “honey.” Such products also require an ingredient statement.

The agency went further to tag the improperly labeled honey products blended with additional sweeteners as “fraud.”

“Simply put, consumers are being cheated,” the agency wrote.

The violative shipments were refused entry into the United States, according to FDA. The associated products and companies were also placed on import alert.

The issue of economically motivated adulteration of honey products has been documented in other countries in recent years. In Canada, for example, the prevalence of honey adulterated with additional sweeteners was 13% in 2019 and 2020.

Per FDA, 70% of the honey consumed in the U.S. is imported.

“Given these data, the FDA conducted this assignment to better understand the extent of economically motivated adulteration among imported honey and to identify violative products and prevent them from being distributed in the U.S. market,” the agency wrote.

FDA said it routinely samples imported honey to ensure the products are accurately labeled. The process is part of the agency’s import sampling and risk-based import entry screening program.

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