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Aspects of honey adulteration - how to prevent the fraud

We have the pleasure to announce a new moderated discussion which will take place from 14 April to 14 May 2017 and will be about the adulteration of honey.  The discussion will be moderated by Etienne Bruneau, agronomist, manager of CARI, a beekeeping centre for research and information based in Belgium and President of the Apimondia Commission for Technology and Quality.

Very few beekeepers are aware of the world situation of the honey market. Today the situation is very surprising because we observe a decrease of the productivity in a lot of countries, including in countries that generally are important honey producers (North America and Europe, Argentina, etc.), an increase of the global consumption of honey and decreasing honey prices. We can explain this decrease in price by a quick increase of the exportation of the 7 main honey export countries of the Eastern hemisphere (196% from 2007 to 2013).

So: while the total number of hives in the world is only slowly increasing (± 1,3% per year) and in many parts of the world a decrease in productivity is observed, statistics show that the amount of honey produced in the whole world increases every year by 2,5%. This increase of productivity is mostly observed in Asia and more specifically in China, the most important producer and exporter of honey. How can this increase in productivity in Asia be explained while in other parts of the world, the productivity is decreasing?  Another possible explanation for the increase in production could be the introduction of “false” or “adulterated” honey on the world market?

We will try to analyse this situation during the next 4 weeks. First of all we will give you a global overview of the honey market and of the production in different countries. We will then look at the techniques currently used by the labs to detect adulterated honey, their validity and limits. We will also provide some figures about adulterated honey that has been detected by the relevant authorities at ports. The third step will be to present what we can do to decrease or even to stop adulteration of honey. An analysis of the global situation from the producer to the consumer will underline the key points where concrete actions can be taken to decrease the interest to adulterate honey and to realize a better control of the market. Here all your suggestions will be welcome.

The objectives of the discussion are to inform the beekeepers and all the persons working in the honey value chain of the situation of the international market. We want to make them aware of the importance of the phenomenon of adulteration and the difficulty of detecting it in certain cases. All beekeepers are affected by this problem, which can affect them either directly (detection of returns of feeding syrups) or indirectly by a decrease in prices on the wholesale market.

We are inviting you to join the discussion, to share information and to ask questions to the expert. Please also feel free to forward the invitation to friends and colleagues.

Best wishes,



Dear discussion followers,

Welcome to this moderated discussion. My name is Etienne Bruneau, I am an agronomist, manager of CARI, a Beekeeping Research and Information Centre in Belgium and since 2009 I am President of the Apimondia Commission for Technology and Quality.  For the next four weeks, I will be moderating this discussion on the problem of adulteration of honey. Feel free to ask any questions or to post comments.

Very few beekeepers have a clear vision of the global honey market. Who are the main producers, the main buyers and what is the evolution of the market in recent years? How is it possible to highlight the fact that only a massive adulteration of honeys can explain the current progress of the market. This is what we will discuss in this first part of the discussion.

To better understand the honey market, it is necessary to analyze in more detail the colonies present in the territory and their production. To do this, we used data from FAO (2010 to 2014) and Eurostat (2015). The two maps below illustrate this data for the world (Figure 1) and for the European Union (Figure 2). They show the production of honey produced per km2 per country (background color of countries). For each country, the map also shows the annual production of honey per hive (kg of honey per hive per year) and the density of hives (number of colonies/km2) and for the European Union the density of beekeepers (beekeepers/10 km2).

Figure 1: World: Number of hives per km2, kg of honey produced per hive and production of honey (kg)/km2   (Source: Abeilles & Cie 172, 2016)

Figure 2: Europe: Number of beekeepers per 10 km2, number of hives per km2, kg of honey produced per hive, and production of honey (kg) per km2 (Source: Abeilles & Cie 172, 2016)

As you can see, there are big variations depending on the continents and the geographical areas where the countries are located.

The situation at the global level is therefore complex. The highest densities of hives are recorded in Europe and the Middle East with a peak of 18 hives per km2 in Lebanon. The situation is less uniform in Central America and Asia where South Korea leads with 14 hives per km2. In Africa, the East coast seems to be the most favored. As you may assume, statistical data are rarely accurate and often underestimate the situation in many countries. In addition, many have not reported their statistics to FAO.

The average production per hive in certain areas can make more than one beekeeper dream. 9 countries exceeded the 45 kg average production level per hive between 2010 and 2014 with Taiwan reaching 123 kg. As you know, the production of the colonies will depend on the bees, their floral environment, climatic conditions, but also on the technical skills of the beekeepers and transhumance (migratory beekeeping) carried out for honey production or pollination (for example in China, USA and Spain).

It is also interesting to report the production of honey to the surface of the country. Production per unit area (km2) in Taiwan exceeds what can be imagined with 386 kg of honey per km2. It is followed by South Korea, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey and Ukraine with respectively 200, 145, 142, 118 and 116 kg per km2. Heavyweights on international markets stand out on the maps (Figure 1 and 2) with a darker country color.  They include China, the EU, Turkey, Argentina and Mexico.

In the European Union, the most productive area is in the South-East: Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Greece with, respectively 330, 212, 203 and 170 kg of honey per km2. Slovenia has the highest number of beekeepers (8.5/10 km2) with, as in Hungary, almost 12.5 hives per km2.  The largest honey production per hive is observed in the Northeast with production of more than 30 kg and up to 100 kg per hive in some years (Sweden and Finland).

World Trade

At the global level, honey production is steadily increasing over the years. It goes from 1,273 thousand tons of honey in 2001 to 1,664 thousand tons in 2013, which corresponds to an annual increase of about 2.5%. Table 1 shows the production of honeys for the main honey producing countries. The increase recorded is greater than population growth of ± 1.2% per year. The difference corresponds to an increase in the consumption of honey from year to year.

Table 1: World honey production per country (1,000 tons)

What will influence the world market is the movements of honeys between the different countries. At international level, only honeys that will be offered for export will be considered in terms of supply and demand. It is therefore the available volume of these honeys that compared to the demand will influence the prices offered. This trade accounts for about a quarter of the total production of honey. These exchanges have also increased from 389 thousand tons in 2008 to 500 thousand tons in 2015 (Source: UN Comtrade). Growth here is 4% per year and is mainly due to increased imports by the EU and the USA (see Table 2).


Table 2: World import of Honey

Moreover, the evolution of world exports of honey shows two distinctly different stages since the beginning of this century. Between 2001 and 2009, global honey exports grew moderately with an average rate of about 7,398 tons/year. However, as of 2010 the rate increased, reaching an average increase of 40,705 tons/year.

Figures 3 (world) and 4 (EU) present production, imports and exports of honey by country and help us to better understand the situation (Source: FAO Stat). China is emerging as the leading producer of honey and as the leading exporter. Following are countries like Argentina, Uruguay and Chile that export most of their production. Mexico, Brazil, India, Ukraine and Canada also export a significant portion of their honey.

There are very few buyers. The European Union, the USA, Japan and Saudi Arabia are the only major importers. Other countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand, appear to be transit countries because exports are only possible through imports that compensate for the lack of production. Vietnam seems to export more than its production, which suggests that there could be some inaccuracies in FAO statistics.

Figure 3: World honey market (average 2010-14): import, production and export (tons) (Source: Abeilles & Cie 172, 2016)

Figure 4 on the European honey market shows the most important honey producing countries (Romania, Spain and Hungary) as well as the European countries exporting big amounts of honey to other European countries such as Romania, Hungary, Spain and Bulgaria. The case of Spain is astonishing because the country imports honey from the EU and re-exports a lot of honey. The data do not allow us to know the origin of the imported honey (EU or non-EU). For Belgium or Germany, it seems clear that honey exported to the EU comes from imports (German honeys reach a higher price on the local market than on the export market).

Figure 4: European honey market 2015: imports from outside the EU, imports from EU countries, production by country, export to other EU countries and exports to countries outside of the EU  (in 1000 tons)  (Source: Abeilles & Cie 172, 2016)

Price evolution

The data described above (production and exchange of honey) don’t give the changes over the years and in order to better understand price developments, we must analyze the evolution of the market, which will naturally be directly influenced by supply and demand. The latter is constantly evolving and even faster in recent times as shown in the Nielsen survey (https://www.honey.com/images/uploads/research-projects/2016_Category_Rev...) in the USA which reports that honey is in sixth position in the fastest growing sales. The consumer’s interest and demand for natural products is probably the cause. As far as production is concerned, we know that the problems linked to the numerous colony losses affect the production of honey in both the EU and the USA, and even if beekeepers have increased their number of hives, production remains relatively stable and even decreases. It therefore responds more and more to the demand (meaning an increase in prices because demand is higher than supply). A large percentage of colonies only serve to strengthen production colonies when needed. This explains the increase in honey imports described above because contrary to what one might imagine, prices rather than rising, are going down or staying stationary (see Table. 3).

Table 3: EU average unit value of imported honey (€/kg) by origin

Norberto Garcia (Professor Departamento de Agronomía. UNIVERSIDAD NACIONAL DEL SUR Bahía Blanca. Argentina) has written an article on this phenomenon of decreasing prices despite a raising demand for a stable or decreasing production (see attached). He describes the different mechanisms involved in this process. It clearly shows that exports of honeys from China, India Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, Turkey and Ukraine have increased sharply (see Table 4).

Table 4: Total honey exports of the seven major honey exporting countries (in tons). (Source: ITC- UNCOMTRADE)

This corresponds to an increase of 196%. However, the number of hives in these countries increased by only 13% during the same period. The phenomenon is even more pronounced for China, which has increased its exports by 8,157 tons every year from 2006 to 2015. Another remarkable fact in this country is that production increases almost linearly over the years unlike in other countries where production is decreasing. In Asia, and particularly in China, some honey production techniques may no longer meet the CODEX definition of honey (1981). Harvesting should normally be carried out on honey dried by bees and the moisture content should not exceed 20%. The harvest of factory-dehumidified honey frames does not correspond to international standards. Such a honey rapidly ferments and requires the removal of the fermentation residues by filtration or passage over resins, which also downgrades the honey. When this artificial way of “maturing” honey is used to increase productivity, the natural quality of the product is greatly altered. Other more damaging practices can also explain such an increase in production such as a feeding during harvest time or even the addition of sugar syrups (corn, rice, beetroot, etc.) to dilute the honey produced. The availability of cheap sugars, and the obsolescence of many official methods of fraud detection favors this type of technique. To this can be added the camouflage of the country of honey production aiming at avoiding tariffs (especially in the case of USA where anti-dumping measures have been implemented) and controls. Some countries can buy honey from China to resell it as his proper honey to the USA to avoid anti-dumping taxes. It’s what we call triangular market. This is forbidden.

Other parameters will also influence prices such as the detection of undesirable substances in honeys (pesticides such as glyphosate, pyrrolizidinic alkaloids, etc.). The value of honey which contains too many forbidden substances has lower prices but they can be mixed with other honey to arrive under the maximum residue limit fixed by the authorities.  The release of stocks of honeys at low prices following the loss of certain markets can also have an impact on prices (f.eg. Ukraine can no longer export its honeys to Russia because of the conflict between these countries).

In the context of this discussion, we will focus more particularly on problems related to the adulteration of honeys. The next point will focus on is the analytical aspects and data on amounts of adulterated honey.

I would be interested in hearing from you what is the evolution of honey productivity in your country?  Is the productivity increasing or going down and why?

Which unauthorized techniques are used by beekeepers in your country to increase the productivity of their hives?

When posting a comment, please shortly introduce yourself by mentioning the country you are writing from and your relationship with beekeeping (f.eg. beekeeper, researcher, etc.).  If you are not confident to write in English, you can also post your comments/questions in French or Spanish, the TECA team will assist with the translation, if not too long.

Remember, to post a comment, use the “add new comment” field below.  To be able to post, you will need to register to the Beekeeping Exchange Group first (http://teca.fao.org/user/register).  If you are already a TECA member, just log in before posting.  If you experience any problems, kindly contact the TECA team (TECA@fao.org).

Ashish Gupta's picture

Does this also include, antibiotic traces in honey used to treat mites? 

Also does it include pesticides (and other *cides) which pollinators accumulate off foraging from crops which have been sprayed with? 

A recent report from India showed shocking results from the very well known brands of Honey. Then there is also the issue of the impact GM crops and herbicides will have on the value chain from the pollinators. 

All in all - there are risks at large to the value chain system around pollinator products consumed in the markets. The key around it is increasing diversity through sustainable agricultural system and also enhancing traditional bee keeping and forest diverse methods. 

Report of interest can also be found at - 

Adultration in Honey with Antibiotics - https://goo.gl/5cD2lX

Impact of GMOs and herbicides on Pollinators - https://goo.gl/9Hh8zn and https://goo.gl/FOqAz8




Dear Mr. Gupta

Thank you for sharing  your information on "shocking issues" on Indian honey. These issues are universal.

The term "adulterated honey" means any honey to which has been added honeydew, glucose, dextrose, molasses, sugar, sugar syrup, invert sugar, or any other similar product or products, other than the nectar of floral exudations of plants gathered and stored in the comb by honey bees.(https://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=69.28.380)

 In this sense, adulteration does not include contaminants such as pesticides, heavy metals, radioactive isotopes, organic pollutants, pathogenic bacteria and GMOs.

Sincerely yours,

cleo cervancia

President Apimondia Regional Commission for Asia





Dear Mr Gupta, 

Thank you for your information. Under the term adulteration we will speak of all mislabelling due to the addition of syrup but also of the use of wrong geographical and/or botanical origins. 

Best regards

Etienne Brunea

President of the Commission Technology and Quality of Apimondia



Dear all,


what is needed - just my personal view - is detailed definitions on honey and its constituents according to its botanical and/or geographical origin based on sound scientific investigation. This includes the development of easy to use, but very reliable tests, which can be employed to detect adulteration of honey. I'm looking forward to bring up a consortium of African researchers that will provide the basis for such clear cut definitions for African honey. It would be great to explore possibilities for funding of such kind of projects.


best regards


Michael Lattorff

Head of Environmental Health

icipe—African Insect Science for Food and Health


Ashish Gupta's picture

Conitnuing on the issue of definition - in the current context, older definitions of adultration of honey should also evolve. Since this discussion is also focused on how the consumers are impacted - then in addition to adultration due to non-natural sources, pestcides (thus herbi-insecti- cides as well) should be included. 

It may be quite a challenge to expect the market to evolve out of the adultration - which is evident - but let the definitions remain status quo. 

In fact within the Codex and EU directive definition - http://www.bee-hexagon.net/files/file/fileE/Honey/AuthenticityRevue_Inte...


“3.1 Honey sold as such shall not have added to it any food ingredient, including food additives, nor shall any other additions be made other than honey. Honey shall not have any objectionable matter, flavour, aroma, or taint absorbed from foreign matter during its processing and storage. The honey shall not have begun to ferment or effervesce. No pollen or constituent particular to honey may be removed except where this is unavoidable in the removal of foreign inorganic or organic matter

where in fact - "honey shall not have any objectionable matter" - by interpretation also includes all the *cide residues (including any side effects (direct or indirect toxicity) of Cry1ac gene due to GMOs). 

Thus what is sperate as "organic" or "natural" must be the default in terms of purity of honey and all others should be treated as adultrated by default - since they are likely to contain residues of agro-chemicals or GMOs unless proven otherwise. Thus the demand of certification on purity of honey too must be redefined. Accodingly - 

"Authenticity in respect of descriptions: geographical and botanical origin, ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘raw’ and ‘unheated’ honey"

Hence - this discussion should include these aspects of definitional change/interpretation as well.

Relevant document cited is attached.


Ashish Gupta

IFOAM-OI/PGS and Innovation Comittee Member

Dear Asish and others


I think it is useful to distiguish between adultaeration in the sense of mixing honey with other products as syrup and residues of pesticides, antibiotics etc. However, both will interfere with the integrity of the procduct, adulteration is due to active human activity, while pesticide residues are a passive byproduct pciked up by bees from the environment. Also, both require different methodology to detect the fraud. Thus, we are very well being able to detect residues of pesticides, antibiotics and other toxins, the definition of the geographical and botanical origin of honeys and their potential adulteration by adding any kind of syrup or other cheap honey from other geographical locations is more difficult to detect and needs more attention in the future.


best regards


Michael Lattorff

Head of Environmental Health

icipe—African Insect Science for Food and Health

In the frame of this discussion we just want to have a better view of the actual situation on the market of honey as describe in the CODEX and in the EU legislation. Adulteration can have a very important impact on prices and on the rentability of beekeepers. It's important to understand what we can do to limit this problem.

As you know, other legislations exist for GM and pesticides. Maximum residue limits exist at international level and in different countries.

The limit between "organic" and "natural" can be the subject of an other discussion. 

Hello,Thank you for the creation of this forum, it is a subject wich interessed me  for years, it is true that the honey market is undeniably polluted by speculators who take advantage of the credulity of consumers of The weakness of regulation and insufficient resources available to the control services to put all sorts of "sweet liquid" fraudulently called "honey" on the market, the victims are the beekeepers who honestly try to produce quality honey And sustainable way in preserving the bees.I hope that this discussion group will lead to the setting up of a multidisciplinary working group (researchers analysts chemists qualitative veterinary biologists) whose mission will be to put in place rapid and not expensive tests of detection of adulteration to stop those who Ing to find the best way to produce ever more to flood the market by fraud at all levels of production, excessive feeding, adulteration, treatment Kheira dahmaniTeacher ESSAIA Algeirs. Best regards.

Am Dr. Fola Yusuf from Nigeria but presently based in South Africa. Am an Agricultural Extension Specialist with interest in beekeeping.

Adulteration of pure honey is a conscious or deliberate efforts by who is a "beekeeper, processor or marketers" by reducing in quality or quantity or both  with an attempt to gain undue financial advantages over unsuspecting buyers or consumers. In South Africa, Eastern Cape Province where I am based, such bad activity is yet to be reported or observed from my field experience. And in my training program, emphasis is laid on this area. But what am not clear about is the expiry dates on almost honey label from China, can pure honey expires? This is where am suspicious of these honey. Ill be delighted if I am corrected on this.  

And from the data kindly shared by the moderator, Am convinved that those countries reporting high harvest rates are into some douthful or dubious manipulation which is directly propotional to adulteration.