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Honey adulteration: Deal to combat honey fraud and boost traceability and labeling rules reached in EU

#Honey adulteration: Deal to combat honey fraud and boost traceability and labeling rules reached in EU

01 Feb 2024 — A provisional agreement has been reached between the European Parliament and EU Council negotiators, which will bolster transparency in the honey sector and help mitigate adulteration, which has historically been rife in this market.

An agreement on updated rules on the composition, name, labeling and presentation of certain “breakfast” foodstuffs was reached earlier this week.

Honey labeling
It was agreed to make it obligatory to clearly indicate in the same field of vision as the name of the product the countries where the honey comes from instead of only indicating if it comes from the EU or not. This is currently the case for honey blends.

Significant amounts of honey imported from non-EU countries are suspected of being adulterated with sugar and remain undetected on the EU market. The new proposals specifically focus on countering this kind of fraud while better informing consumers.

The percentages of the honey coming from at least the top four countries of origin must also be indicated. If this does not represent more than half of the total honey, the percentages must be indicated for all countries.

The revision of EU marketing standards for certain “breakfast” directives was proposed by the European Commission (EC) in April 2023 to update current standards that are more than 20 years old.

Tackling fraud
Honey adulteration has long been an issue in the EU and beyond.

According to a European Commission investigation last March, 46% of collected samples of honey imports were suspected of being adulterated with syrups.

In the same month, scientific testing on US and UK honey products claiming to be mānuka found that 100% of the 46 brands were not from New Zealand. According to the country’s export standards, all analyzed products “missed key indicators of genuine mānuka honey,” explained the Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association.

Meanwhile, innovations to tackle honey adulteration have been appearing on the market.

One example comes from China, where scientists have developed a sensor that can detect water adulteration in honey. The system is compact and consists of a microwave microstrip line planar resonator sensor tool assembled on a dielectric substrate to detect contamination in honey.

Improving honey traceability
During the talks, the EC also agreed to propose a special identifier code or similar technique to trace the honey back to beekeepers. It was also decided that an EU platform of experts should be set up to gather data to improve controls, detect adulteration in honey.

A notebook with EU flag on its cover.The Commission is working on a report that evaluates the inclusion of country-of-origin labeling for fruit used in juice, jams and marmalades.They should also recommend an EU traceability system that allows the honey to be traced back to the harvesting producer or importer.

These recommendations closely follow a series of feasibility studies.

The EC will prepare a report assessing making labeling on the country of origin of fruit for fruit juice, jams, and marmalades obligatory within 36 months of entry into force of this directive.

The general rule will be that at least 450 g of fruit must produce one kg of jam and marmalades (500 g for high-quality “extra jam”).

Sugar labeling
It was also agreed that the label “contains only naturally occurring sugars” should be allowed for fruit juices. In addition, to meet the growing demand for low-sugar products, it was agreed that reformulated fruit juices might be labeled “reduced-sugar fruit juice,” but only if at least 30% of naturally occurring sugars have been removed.

However, producers may not use sweeteners to compensate for the effect of sugar reduction on the final product’s taste, texture and quality.

“This is a good day for more transparent labeling. I am particularly happy that we have taken action to counter fraud with honey,” says Rapporteur Alexander Bernhuber (EPP, Austria).

“In the future, front labels will have to clearly state the countries of origin also of honey blends and the need for an EU traceability system for honey has been established. These initiatives will better inform consumers, and both beekeepers and consumers will be better protected from adulterated honey.”

The deal — which was discussed as part of “Breakfast Directives” — is yet to be adopted by Parliament and Council but is expected to be later this year, after which the new law will be published in the EU Official Journal and enter into force 20 days later. EU countries will have to apply the new rules two years after entry into force.

By Gaynor Selby

This feature is provided by Packaging Insights’s sister website, Food Ingredients First.

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