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Honey Fraud: Without Pollen, the Origin Is Unknown

The only way to determine honey's origin is through the pollen.
The only way to determine honey's origin is through the pollen.
Photo courtesy of bbum

Whenever we buy products from a grocery store, we usually don't second guess where it came from. If a sign for shrimp says that it is from the Gulf of Mexico, we believe it. We are a very trusting society when it comes to purchasing food or drinks from a supermarket, farmers market or grocery store, but there's one product's origin we should definitely question, and that's honey.

Honey comes from all around the world and there are hundreds of types of to purchase. Just as there are different types of apples that taste different from one another and can be used in different ways, there are a variety of honey flavors based on the pollen from certain flowers.

Dr. Vaughn Bryant, professor and director in the anthropology department at Texas A&M University has conducted much research with detecting pollen in honey, in fact, in a 2011 study sponsored by Food Safety News, Bryant found no pollen in more than 75 percent of the honey he tested from stores around the country.

Bryant says that no one can determine where honey came from or even what was used to make the honey if the pollen is removed.

"People can say anything they want," Bryant says. "If you went into a liquor store and wanted to buy a really good quality Bordeaux, don't you think you ought to get what you paid for?"

Buckwheat honey is a special type of honey used for health benefits.
Buckwheat honey is a special type of honey used for health benefits.
Photo courtesy of roboppy

To some, honey is just a sweet condiment they like to spread on a biscuit, use when baking or add to their tea, but to others, honey is more than that; they care about the origin and will pay extra money for their favorite flavor. But, what if that special flavor of honey is not really where its label says it is from? What if it is cheaper honey?

Bryant has visited a number of health food stores and supermarkets to only find that the source of origin claimed on the bottle is not where it truly came from, which causes the consumer to pay more for something that is a lot cheaper.

Honey provides excellent health and nutritional benefits, but the pollen needs to be present; the quality of health benefits depends on the plant of origin -- each plant provides different benefits. The propolis, a mixture of resins and materials from a beehive to protect the hive from intruders, has shown to help prevent cancer and tumors. Honey helps maintain blood sugars and insulin sensitivity, increase immunity, and more specifically, Buckwheat honey has capabilities of reducing coughs in children above the age of 2.

Even though honey has many healthy benefits, it is useless without the pollen. Unfortunately, you can't tell just by looking at a bottle if it has pollen or not, and even if it did have pollen, you couldn't determine where it came from just by looking at the bottle, either, Bryant says.

The FDA doesn't have a procedure for inspecting honey for pollen. AKA, there are types of honey being sold in the country without pollen, and those honeys are falsely labeled. There is no law in the United States that says you have to label honey from its true origin.

"It's my understanding that what Customs does is that they do not test the honey for pollen," Bryant says. "They are more concerned with where the shipments came from."

Honey being sold without pollen hurts the beekeeping industry.
Honey being sold without pollen hurts the beekeeping industry.
Photo by Molly Dunn

Bryant explains that to a degree that is OK, but it isn't a strict enough inspection for honey. Importers can simply put any label they want to on a jar of honey, and just as long as it came from a legal source, it can be sold in the states.

Because there is no law or procedure in place for determining the source of honey before being sold in the states, many individuals have proposed a Senate bill that would create a standard for analyzing honey to figure out from where it originated.

Not only does the removal of pollen affect the honey industry for consumers, it also affects the beekeeping industry. With more and more types of honey coming into the United States without proof of origin, the more difficult it is for beekeepers to survive in the industry, causing less of a demand for their products, which majority of the time have pollen.


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