U.S. Beekeepers Challenged by Honey Fraud

Jul 17, 2020

When you think of fraud, honey may not come to mind - that is unless you’re a U.S. beekeeper.

U.S. demand for honey far exceeds the 156 million pounds U.S. beekeepers and their bees can produce. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, each year about 596 million pounds of honey are consumed by U.S. households and food processing facilities. 

But profits aren’t what some might think. The livelihood of U.S. beekeepers is challenged by a substance disguised as pure honey, imported and sold to U.S. food processors. 

“It’s basically economically motivated adulteration. It’s a way to gain in the market is by having the cheaper product, and to get the cheaper product, you dilute it with another syrup,” explains Kelvin Adee.

Kelvin Adee is President of the American Honey Producers Association, a second-generation South Dakota beekeeper and co-owner of Adee Honey Farms (www.AdeeHoneyFarms.com), the nation’s largest honey producer.

The syrup he mentions could be rice, beet or a custom-made sugar syrup. Diluting pure honey with these syrups is one of many ways imported honey is adulterated. This fraud increases product quantity, allowing fake honey to be sold as the “real deal” for much less than cost of production.  

“It’s actually costing U.S. beekeepers more to produce the honey that what you can sell it for.”

Adee says no one knows for sure how much honey is adulterated, but he recommends discussing it with analytical chemist Jim Gawenis. Gawenis is CEO of Columbia, Missouri-based, Sweet Water Science Labs (INSERT HYPER LINK: https://sweetwaterscience.com/), an analytical lab focused on food authentication. 

“Of what we have seen in our laboratory. I can only speak to that. We have seen between 30 and 45 percent of the honeys coming through have been adulterated,” says Jim Gawenis.

Authenticating food is personal for Gawenis because he has family members with food allergies and sensitivities. He says the fact that his family and other consumers are unknowingly eating food that is labeled as a pure product, but has actually been adulterated, motivates his work.

“It’s actually the reason we started Sweetwater Science Labs. Everybody’s been worried about food safety all this time, but no one’s been really concerned with whether or not the food is actually food,” says Gawenis.

Beekeepers are working with Congressional leaders to appropriate more funds for U.S. Customs to test imported honey. Austin Adee, Kelvin’s nephew and a third-generation beekeeper says in addition to more testing, he would like to see more done when fake honey is discovered so that it cannot re-enter the food chain.

“Right now the law basically says, if it’s not honey, it just has to be labeled as sugar syrup and it’s allowed to continue its importation. We need to have some level of destruction or permanent altercation to it, so it can never be used as honey,” says Austin Adee.  

Another way to ensure honey purity is GenuHoney™ a new certification program. 

“Consumers are entitled to purchase food products that are 100 percent authentic,” says Mitch Weinberg.

And authentic honey, explains Mitch Weinberg, the brains behind GenuHoney ( https://www.genuhoney.com/) is something consumers don’t want to miss out on.

"At least in its pure form, more than any other commodity that we consume in the world, the honey story is by far the most incredible and beautiful. …Because their pollinating a large variety of different kinds of plants, you get different flavor profiles in the honey,” says Mitch Weinberg.

Mitch Weinberg is the President and CEO of INSCATECH, a food fraud detection and prevention company. To receive GenuHoney certification, beekeepers undergo a three-part authentication process: an unannounced, forensic audit of either the beekeeper or packer; random sample authenticity testing and brand authentication.

The hope is that labeling to ensure consumers know they are buying a pure product will help U.S. beekeepers receive a fair price for the honey their bees produce. Keeping beekeepers in business is something all consumers should care about, explains Sturgis beekeeper, John Stolle. Stolle also serves as President of the South Dakota Beekeepers Association.

“Well, if the price gets low enough the beekeepers quit. If beekeepers quit, the bees leave, and you know there goes about every second or third or fourth mouthful of food that you are gonna consume is either directly or indirectly related to pollination,” says John Stolle.

John Stolle adds one way consumers can support beekeepers and ensure their honey is pure, is to look for and buy local honey.

To learn more about beekeepers mentioned in this story and Sweet Water Science Labs and GenuHoney, visit our website.