European fight against ‘honey laundering’ targets Chinese sugar syrup

EU countries are coping with an influx of honey in syrup from China and other exporters that is flooding the bloc’s €2.3 billion honey market and driving down prices.

The bid by 20 member states, led by Slovenia, to tighten regulation against what one official called “honey laundering” follows a European Commission study that found a rise in fraud. Nearly half of the honeys surveyed breached EU rules, with ingredients such as sugar syrups, dyes and water, according to results published last month.

“It’s basically sugar water,” an EU official said.

Because imported honey sells for a lower price than the European product, beekeepers across the continent said honey fraud could hurt small businesses, mislead consumers and, by discouraging would-be beekeepers , represent a risk to the environmental role of bees.

“There is unfair competition coming from outside the EU, mainly from China,” said Yvan Hennion, a beekeeper with 300 hives in Houllin, northern France. “It’s not real honey and it’s causing the price to crash.”

The 20 member states this week called for new rules on honey labeling and stronger controls to make it easier to detect fraudulent samples, authorities said. It follows an earlier proposal on honey labeling led by Slovenia in January.

The commission will publish proposals on Friday on the revision of marketing standards for agri-food products, including a new approach to the labeling of honey. He declined to comment prior to that post.

Four out of five jars sold in supermarkets are blends, often including honey from both inside and outside the block. A proposal from Slovenia has called for EU honey labels to indicate each country of origin and their respective share of the blends, rather than the current approach of simply indicating that the blends contain a mixture of EU and non-EU honey. The EU.

The countries also want the commission to improve its detection of adulterated honey and increase the number of laboratories approved to test it.

“We want traceability and an end to honey trafficking,” said an official who supports the proposal.

While European member states broadly support the upcoming proposal, two people said they feared the commission might lack ambition. One said they were concerned that they would not push to require percentages from different countries of origin to be listed on each jar, for example.

Four out of five jars of honey sold in supermarkets are blends, often including both EU and non-EU honey © Ute Grabowsky/Photothek/Getty Images

Despite calls for drastic measures, the EU relies on imports to meet the honey demands of its sweet tooth population. It produces 218,000 tons of honey but also imports 175,000 tons per year, the vast majority coming from just eight destinations, including China, Ukraine, Turkey, and several Latin American countries.

The commission’s study, conducted between 2021 and 2022, found that 46% of honey samples surveyed breached EU rules, a figure that had risen from just 14% in 2015-17. Some 70 of the 123 companies assessed had exported honey suspected of containing sugar syrups, which can be made cheaper than the genuine article.

Of those exporters, 21 came from China, more than any other country, followed by Ukraine.

Adulterated bottles also came from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Turkey, while all surveyed operators from Great Britain had exported at least one bottle suspected of not meeting EU standards. The researchers said the find was likely the result of honey from other countries being repackaged in the UK, although overall UK exports to the EU were comparatively low.

Hennion, the beekeeper, said that while direct sales from his farm had held up well, the prices he received from wholesalers had fallen in recent years. He charges wholesalers at least €3.50 per kilo for honey, but imported honey can be bought for less than €1 per kilo, which puts pressure on his prices.

This affected the entire bee-based economy, said Hennion, who also sells queen bees to hive start-ups.

“Everything goes together,” he said. “Honey is sold at a good price, the vendor sells equipment, beekeepers set up, we sell queen bees. It is a profession of a circular bee that we must maintain ”.

Stanislav Jaš, a Finland-based beekeeper and vice president of the honey working group for European agricultural groups Copa and Cogeca, said he was forced to sell more honey directly to consumers than wholesale due to falling prices. .

“It is problematic because it requires a lot of time. I would like to focus on working with the bees,” she said.

The beekeeping industry is vital to the environment and agriculture because of the role of bees in pollination, Jas and Hennion said.

Pollinators, including honey bees, contribute €22 billion each year to the European agricultural industry and pollinate 80% of the continent’s crops and wild plants, according to EU figures. They face a decline caused by pesticides, pollution and other factors, which the EU has said it wants to reverse by 2030.

Hennion is a “pastoral” beekeeper, or a “flower hunter,” he says. To ensure that his bees have access to the rapeseed, he regularly travels with them from the Ardèche in the south of France to Halluin, a town on the Belgian border.

This way of life, and that of other beekeepers in Europe, was at risk if prices stayed low, said Aapo Savo, a Finnish honey packer who works with 150 Finnish beekeepers to pack honey into containers that are then sold in supermarkets. .

“What is the future of professional beekeeping in Europe?” Savo said. “It will become increasingly difficult to produce honey. I don’t think it’s sustainable.”

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