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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,

Charlotte

Comments

Attached you can find some part of the presentation made by Cathal Henigan on the global honey trade in China Bee Products Industry Conference in March 22. 

Here you can also find more informations about Maximum Residue Limits (MRL) 

At international level:

http://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/standards/pestres/en/

At european level:

https://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/pesticides/max_residue_levels/eu_rules_en

and concerning the traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the traceability of food and feed products produced from genetically modified organisms in European Union:

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=URISERV:l21170

and Directive 2014/63/EU clarifies that pollen is a natural constituent rather than an ingredient of honey. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=URISERV%3Al21124a

 

Images: 

Attached you can find part of the presentation made by Cathal Henigan, president of the British Honey Importers & Packers Association, on the global honey trade. The attached slides give last datas (2016) on honey market. 

Here you can find more informations about MRL

At international level:

http://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/standards/pestres/en/

At european level:

https://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/pesticides/max_residue_levels/eu_rules_en

and concerning the traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms and the traceability of food and feed products produced from genetically modified organisms in European Union

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=URISERV:l21170

Directive 2014/63/EU clarifies that pollen is a natural constituent rather than an ingredient of honey. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=URISERV%3Al21124a

Dear all, I think that detecting adulteration with adding sugar syrup and detect residues of pesticides and antibiotics are the ends of the same rope the aim is to give safe and quality honey for custumers and protect honest beekeepers however    i agree with Mr bruneau the most urgent now (and difficult) is to develop methods to detect  adulteration buy adding sugar syrup after production or excessive bees  nutrition i am working in this field (quality of honey) for some time and its very hard i read Mr bruneau article concerning detection of adulteration (http://www.cari.be/medias/abcie_articles/162_produits.pdf) and for me the major problem in my country (at least) is the cost of the modern techniques (RMN,IRMS,LC/MS) and the deficiency of formation of professionals , thoses methods  are not used buy laboratories of control , the largest other problem is legislation quality parameters ( humidy, HMF don’t protect against this problem (adulteration)  important quantities of honey are imported in Algeria most of them came from Saudi arabia wich raise a question of origin of this honey we think that its Chinese honey conditioned in KSA but how to prove it ?person in charge of control don’t  have these material means and its not the unique problem honey come from other countries (spain,Canada) and ask other questions…  Kheira dahmani , teacher and resercher , ESSAIA ,Algeirs. 

Hello,

 

I am Shiny Rehel, working for a non for profit organisation based in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, India. My work involves mellisoplaynology and provide training on quality control of honey.

While looking in to the definition of adulteration of honey- I will include the mixing of honey from different species of Apis (cerana, dorsata, florea, Stingless and mellifera) as adulterated honey.  Most of the manual have not incorporated this aspect in the prescribed quality standards. Presence of antibiotic or other similar compounds can be considered as contaminants as it is an indirect activity of humans and a factor, which is not in direct control. Bees travel at a distance of 800 to 1-2 kilometres to forage on plants. It is a challenge with the rapid urbanisation and landscape changes where bees have limited resources and bee colonies need to be fed artificial feeds (Sugar syrup, etc) and harvest the same from the colonies. I think adulteration is more frequent when scaling of bee keeping is considered in large-scale marketing or complied to keep demand of the market.

It`s a great effort putting in the data on the volume of honey produced. We could get clear a better understanding if the data shows volume of honey produced different species of bees and if the data if simplified to show the level of adulteration from which species of honey. The quality of the honey needs to be looked from the collection point of collection rather than when it has been packed.  There are simple methods of detecting adulteration in honey, which can be done by beekeeper or by a nonprofessional.

In the Nilgiris (Tamil Nadu, India), the indigenous communities living in the Nilgiri collect the abundant volume of honey from Apis dorsata honey. The steps followed by the institution which markets honey keeps quality of honey as its priority - is to check the pH, water content, Fiehe test/ Aniline Chloride to check of sugar additives and to identify the pollen present in the honey. However, the most workable method is Know your Beekeeper (as similar as Know your costumer). A seasonal monitoring of honey collection practices followed by trainings when needed is conducted on a regular basis to keep a check on the quality of the honey. A similar method can be followed to check the quality of honey across other regions (different species also). 

Dear Shiny Rehel, in the codex they don't differenciate the species of Apis who produce honey. In EU, that they tell that honey must be produce by Apis mellifera. I think that in the other countries, there is no rule. For me it woud be great if we could differenciate honeys produced by different species. To clarify the situation, it could be a good thing because each honey has is how specificities and probably properties. I don't know if it woud be possible to put some changes in the Codex definition of honey. On this base, beekeepers could find a new way to valorize their specific honeys. 

The traceability must concern the honey from the hive to the jar :-)

Etienne

 

The definition of honey according to the Codex Alimentarius is very clear and describes well what can be marketed under the name honey. In the European Union, the legislation stipulates that honey is produced by Apis mellifera. Other species of bees also produce honeys but do not always have the same physicochemical, microscopic and organoleptic characteristics as those of honey from Apis mellifera. This subject was addressed in a previous TECA moderated discussion (see: http://teca.fao.org/discussion/lets-give-toast-tropical-honey).

The adulteration of honeys is linked to the addition of foreign substances such as sugar syrups in honeys. Other frauds involve wrong labeling of botanical or geographical origin, but also a non-compliance with the definition of honey due to the extraction of honey that has not been matured by bees (honey harvested with too high moisture) or which comes from feeding the bees in periods of nectar flow. While some frauds are relatively simple to detect, others involve very sophisticated techniques. As we have seen in the market situation addressed in the first part of this discussion, problems of adulteration are very numerous and generate major issues in the honey market. Let us look at the main principles that will enable us to detect different types of fraud.

The addition of exogenous sugars

The adulteration of honeys has existed for many years. In the early 1900s, some publications refer to the addition of sugar (sucrose, i.e. table sugar) in honey. This led to adopting a maximum content of sucrose as one of the criteria of the definition of honey. Today technologies for the production of syrups for food in general have evolved and fraudsters no longer just add sucrose. They can choose from a wide variety of tailor-made and cheaply available products that are very similar to the natural sugar profile of honey. This is the reason why today adulterations with many sources of sugars can be found. Different ways of producing sugar syrups exist: inverted syrups (produced from cane or beet sugar) or syrups produced from starch containing plants (rice, wheat or corn e.g. high fructose corn syrups (HFCS)). These techniques leave markers such as enzymes, polysaccharides, difructose anhydrides, and 2-acetylfuran-3-glucopyranoside which allow their detection (see figure in appendix). Moreover, depending on the classification of the plant in C3- (beet, wheat, rice) or C4- (maize, cane, etc.) plants, the isotopic ratio 13C/12C will be different. C3 plants fix atmospheric CO2 using the Calvin (C3) cycle and have a lower 13C/12C ratio than C4 plants that fix CO2 using the Hatch-Slack (C4) cycle. The techniques used to detect them may be different.

Overall, there are two major types of techniques for detecting adulteration.

The most common approach is based on the presence of markers or residues related to the botanical origin of the sugars (sugar beet, rice, maize, etc.) or the technique used to produce the syrup. The artificial enzymes used for the production of the syrup (beta-/gamma-amylase, β fructofuranosidase) can thus be sought. These enzymes are thermostable and are used in large quantities (> 1000 UE). The conversion of polymeric carbohydrate like starch or Inulin into simple sugars often leaves rests of oligosaccharides (≥DDP 4). These types of oligosaccharides are not present in honey and thus indicate the addition of exogenous sugars. Other products generated in the process of producing syrups such as difructose anhydrides (DFAs) in HFCS and invert syrups and 2-acetylfuran-3-glucopyranoside (AFGP) in rice syrups. Sugars from C3 plants can also be found on the basis of the C12/C13 ratio. Different chromatographic techniques have thus been developed over time:  thin-layer chromatography, gas chromatography coupled to a mass spectrometer, high performance liquid chromatography with evaporative light scattering detection, ultrahigh-performance liquid chromatography/quadrupole time of flight mass spectrometry. Each of these techniques has analytical limitations. One of the most advanced techniques is the one used by the European Commission's Join Research Center (JRC): the EA/LC-IRMS - Isotope ratio mass spectrometry. It takes into consideration the main sugar fractions present including the oligosaccharides. Detection and quantification limits will naturally depend on the method but may also vary depending on the type of syrup sought. For example, the technique used by the JRC does not reveal the importance of adulteration. The technique is, however, very sensitive to sugar syrups used in beekeeping feeding because it allows the detection of additions close to 1% for high fructose corn syrup sugars, 3% for sugars of rice syrup and 10% if mixed (HFCS - rice syrup).

Method like EA-LC-IRMS are not harmonised, no official methods and they might lead to different interpretations between labs. This technique thus makes it possible to detect in the honey very low levels of feeding syrup. Some operators however working on large volumes can probably make syrups that are difficult to detect with this sophisticated technique if they can modify the sugar fractions’ C12/C13 ratios.

The second type of technique is based on the overall composition of honey. For this technique however, the great natural variability of honey at the international level constitutes a major handicap. NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) is the most recent technique in this field. As it analyzes the honey as a whole considering all natural components present and statistically based ratios between thereof, it can reveal more sophisticated frauds independently from the plant source and composition. Fraud against such a technique is more difficult because it is practically impossible to reconstitute the complete composition of honey (sugars, organic acids, amino acids, aromatic components, etc.) at an economically viable cost. It is this very complex profile which is analyzed statistically with the NMR technique. However, this technique can only detect significant additions (≥ 10%) of exogenous sugars if information on the origin of the honey is not available. NMR is the only technique that can detect the harvest of nectar and not of mature honey (i.e. when dehumidification of honey is done by machines outside the hive).

In the case of adulteration, today we cannot rely on a single technique and we must target what we are looking for: a clear addition of artificial sweetener or small quantities including rests of feeding reserves which cannot be detected so far with conventional methods. In all cases, the ideal case is to know the composition of the syrup used for fraud.

Frauds on floral designation (EU)

To label a honey as honey from a specific floral origin (f.eg. Linden honey, Lavender honey, etc.) a honey must come wholly or mainly from the nectar of a floral species harvested by the bees (according EU Honey Directive 2001/110/EC, Article 2, 2b) « The term ‘mainly’ must be interpreted as being more restrictive than ‘predominantly’ and must be understood to mean ‘almost entirely’. It is rare for a single-flower honey to contain 100% of the characteristics of the same botanic origin and for that reason a certain tolerance is permitted because of the term ‘mainly’ » (EU Explanatory Note 2005).

The requirements concerning pollen percentages, physico-chemical and organoleptic properties for monofloral honeys are not harmonised on EU level or world-wide.

The honey labelled as being from a specific nectar source must correspond to the physicochemical, microscopic and organoleptic characteristics of the nectar source mentioned on the label (appellation). The traditionally applied method for geographical and botanical origin determination is the pollen analysis. So laboratories will analyze the pollen spectrum. The percentage of predominant pollen species gives an indication of the main nectar source but can vary greatly depending on the flower morphology, seize of pollen, pollen production and beekeeping practices.  Depending on the region and of course the country, the characteristics of an appellation will present a certain variability which must be taken into account during the analysis. The discriminating criteria will thus be different for each floral origin. For Robinia (Acacia honey) e.g. the ratio fructose/glucose is an important parameter, for a honey of Lavender, it is essential to know the country of origin and the Lavender species concerned. The organoleptic characteristics are important. The IHC (International Honey Commission) has thus published a characterization of the main monofloral honeys and some countries have defined specific criteria for certain European honeys commonly marketed. On international markets Manuka honey is quite often the subject of fraud.  Manuka is one of the honey types with the highest commercial value due to its unique antibacterial properties and ten times more honey is labeled as Manuka than what is actually produced. Therefore New Zealand governmental bodies and the industry have put in place a series of very specific tests that can indicate the level of purity of Manuka honey exported as such. At the international level, however, there are no official rules, even if certain packers and countries have defined their own specifications for trade.

The know-how of the laboratory is therefore essential. The ideal is to use a laboratory that regularly analyzes the type of honey to be controlled.

Fraud on geographical designations

When honey is marketed as originating from a specific geographical area, honey must originate entirely from the area indicated (according to European legislation). Contrary to the botanical origin, which has very specific characteristics, geographical origin will often be more difficult to define. Generally labs will check if the pollen spectrum of the honey corresponds to the area indicated on the label. Certain types of vegetation are very specific to certain geographical areas/climatic zones, hence, these pollen will be more present in the honey.  The combination of several plants are reflecting environmental or agricultural aspects. For example: chestnut indicates a temperate lowland origin, eucalyptus a Mediterranean type zone, mimosa pudica a tropical zone, etc.  Some plants grow only in the southern hemisphere or endemic plants can be identified as markers for a specific origin. Fe.g. the presence of single Loranthus europaeus pollen in the honey of Robinia is typical for Hungary respectively Southeast-Europe or Quillaja pollen are typical for Chile. However the pollen spectrum can change quickly due to agricultural changes and this must be interpreted carefully.

Several studies have also focused on trace element profiles or heavy metals as indicators of geographical origin. But rock formation and soil composition as basis for these profiles do not take into consideration country borders. Therefore the application of these tests is restricted or depends on a large number of samples for a stable database. These tests are not routinely applied at the present time or are only locally relevant. Today NMR profiling is a promising tool as well to distinguish certain geographical origins depending on the reliability of the database and statistic models covering enough honey samples from different nectar sources and flowering periods.

A European control plan

In 2015, the European Commission organized a coordinated monitoring plan in order to study the prevalence on the market of honey adulterated with sugar syrups and honey mislabeled with regards to their botanical origin or geographical origin.  A first report based on 2,264 honeys from both European origin and non-European origin were tested with a few and simple test methods, was published at the end of 2015. It showed that 7% of the honeys did not comply with the botanical origin announced on the label, 6% were contaminated with sugars and 2% did not comply with the geographical origin indicated. Of the 2,264 samples, 863 honey samples that met the criteria of the Honey Directive (2001/110) by the Member States were then sent to the Commission's research center for further examinations. The European Commission's Directorate-General for Health published on its website on 1 March 2017 (https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/official_controls/food_fraud/honey_en) the Joint Research Center’s (JRC) final report called "Scientific support to the implementation of a Coordinated Control Plan with a view to establishing the prevalence of fraudulent practices in the marketing of honey. Results of honey authenticity testing by liquid chromatography-isotope ratio mass spectrometry ". The results are really worrying because they show that 14% of the samples provided contain added sugars. This adulteration could not be detected by the techniques implemented by the member countries in the first round of testing.

These results are pretty worrisome! Twice as many frauds (20%) have been detected in European honey (mixed or monofloral) than in imported honey (10%) (Mixture of honey from outside the EU or EU and non-EU honey).  In addition, the JRC clearly states that the techniques they have used to analyse the honey cannot detect all adulterations. What is the part of the iceberg that remains immersed?

To my knowledge, the RMN which would probably detect the fraud of large operators is however not yet recognized by the authorities. The fact that the NMR technique is based on a private database of natural honeys can contribute to the reluctance of the authorities.

The quality of the database of honeys which allowed the calibration of the techniques is essential to fix the limits of what can contain a natural honey. The more extensive the database, the wider the boundaries. Currently these databases containing several thousand honeys are in the hands of some important laboratories and producers of laboratory equipment.

Every effort will have to be made to preserve the quality of our honeys and to avoid as far as possible the drifts that seriously damage the image of this wonderful natural product. This is what we will see in the third part of this discussion.

If you have any comments on what has been discussed here or you have any questions, feel free to share comments or post your questions.

Thanks,

Etienne

Images: 

   Bonjour,

Je remercie Mr Bruneau pour son article , le partage d’informations ,l’état des lieux éclairé qu’il a fait sur le marché, le niveau d’adultération en europe et les méthodes disponibles, travaillant sur ce sujet j’ai eu à me rendre compte de la qualité douteuse des miels importés dans mon pays, dont certains européens, mais aussi de certains miels produits localement , il faut le dire, sans parler des miels conditionnés mais d’origine inconnue , par les paramètres légaux de qualités (taux d’humidité, HMF etc..),le soucis c’est que ces paramètres ne permettent pas de détecter les fraudes par ajout de sirop de sucre ou par nourrissement excessif ,le deuxième problème est le coût , le manque de formation des professionnels et donc la quasi absence d’utilisation des méthodes citées, dans  beaucoup de pays ,elles restent cantonnées à certains laboratoires ou centres de recherche ,mais si nous voulons protéger le miel ,les apiculteurs et les consommateurs il est indispensable que ces méthodes soient généralisées, ou du moins à disposition des laboratoires de contrôle de qualité et de la répression des fraudes . Les universités, laboratoires et services gouvernementaux doivent coopérer dans cet objectif ,c’est à mon sens le seul moyen d’endiguer la fraude généralisée dont est victime ce produit noble qu’est le miel.

Kheira DAHMANI,

Enseigante (ESSAIA,Alger).

lila.issia@hotmail.com

 

Translation provided by TECA team

I would like to thank Mr Bruneau for his article, for the sharing of information, for clarifying the current situation of the honey market, and the level of adulteration in Europe and the available methods to detect adulteration.  Working on the topic, I became aware of the doubtful quality of honeys imported in my country, among which European honeys, but also of some locally produced honeys, not to mention jarred honey from unknown origin.  The established legal parameters (humidity, HMF, etc.) do not allow to detect frauds such as the adding of sugar syrup to honey or excessive feeding of the bees.   The second problem concerns costs, the lack of training of professionals and hence the cited tests/detection methods are almost not used. In many countries, they are only available to a handful of labs or research centres. However, if we want to protect the honey, the beekeepers and consumers, it is essential that these methods are commonly used, or at least they should be available to labs in charge of quality control and those fighting against fraud. Universities, labs and government services have to work together in the fight against fraud. In my opinion, it is the only way forward in the fight against fraud which harms the noble product which is honey.

Kheira DAHMANI,

Teacher, ESSAIA, Alger

Dear Etienne and others,

It's a very good discussion on honey adulteration, and we have been devoting to push both our government concerned and member exporters to do something meaningful as follows: 

A. Clear Stance by Chinese Government

a. The General Office of the State Council recently issued the 2017 Priority Work Arrangement for on Food Safety which stressed that violations and crimes involving food safety shall be severely punished and it will advocate for criminal penalty for adulteration and counterfeiting.

b. Study on honey authenticity inspection methods (SMX) has been listed in this year’s work plan and shall be implemented.

c. The Import and Export Food Safety Bureau of AQSIQ is strengthening collaboration among government agencies, industry and enterprises and enforcement of supervision on honey export.

B. The Momentum on Cracking Down Counterfeits Continues

Led by the Bee Products Chamber, CFNA, the China Natural Honey Endorsement and Recommendation Platform, together with the China-EU Honey Inspection Methods Exchange Platform and the China Bee Products Industry Conference (CBPIC), will exercise a black list system to prevent adulterated honey from entering into the market.

C. Strengthening Self-discipline and Mutual-discipline among Enterprises

It would be the responsibilities of both the exporter and the importer if adulterated honey enters into the European market and therefore both sides are encouraged to establish a communication mechanism to exchange information on name list of importers and exporters as well as trade volume. Any honey selling at prices lower than the cost of authentic honey will be taken as adulterated.

As a part of the industry, we will do our utmost to realize a better control of the market to the benefit of beekeepers and the same world.

Best regards,

Long Xuejun

Secretary General, Bee Products Chamber, CFNA

Dear Etienne and others,

It's a very good discussion on honey adulteration, and we have been devoting to push both our government concerned and member exporters to do something meaningful as follows: 

A. Clear Stance by Chinese Government

a. The General Office of the State Council recently issued the 2017 Priority Work Arrangement for on Food Safety which stressed that violations and crimes involving food safety shall be severely punished and it will advocate for criminal penalty for adulteration and counterfeiting.

b. Study on honey authenticity inspection methods (SMX) has been listed in this year’s work plan and shall be implemented.

c. The Import and Export Food Safety Bureau of AQSIQ is strengthening collaboration among government agencies, industry and enterprises and enforcement of supervision on honey export.

B. The Momentum on Cracking Down Counterfeits Continues

Led by the Bee Products Chamber, CFNA, the China Natural Honey Endorsement and Recommendation Platform, together with the China-EU Honey Inspection Methods Exchange Platform and the China Bee Products Industry Conference (CBPIC), will exercise a black list system to prevent adulterated honey from entering into the market.

C. Strengthening Self-discipline and Mutual-discipline among Enterprises

It would be the responsibilities of both the exporter and the importer if adulterated honey enters into the European market and therefore both sides are encouraged to establish a communication mechanism to exchange information on name list of importers and exporters as well as trade volume. Any honey selling at prices lower than the cost of authentic honey will be taken as adulterated.

As a part of the industry, we will do our utmost to realize a better control of the market to the benefit of beekeepers and the same world.

Best regards,

Long Xuejun

Secretary General, Bee Products Chamber, CFNA

We just managed to file an IP for a rapid detection method of raw honey, useful for both honey bee honey and stingless bee honey. The reaction is within 2 minutes, and able to differentiate pure honey and fake products. We're currently improving our prototype to further differentiate the mixed honey product. If anyone would like to try or test any samples, we accept your samples via postage, and we will send you the result via email. The samples needed for this prototype reagent is only 3 drops of honey. for confirmation purposes, 1mL of honey samples is the best to start with. this os our address:

Malaysia Genome Institute
National Institutes of Biotechnology Malaysia
Jalan Bangi, 43000 Kajang
Selangor, MALAYSIA
Contact person: razif@mgi-nibm.my & azfajo@mgi-nibm.my

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