Feel-Good Friday: That's Not Honey, Honey

Reader Contribution by Jessica Kellner

Happy Friday, dear readers! Having just shipped another beautiful issue off to the printer, I am feeling good today! I hope you all are, too.

I wanted to update you on more news regarding tainted, potentially toxic honey on store shelves, which we first reported last summer. Back then we learned from Food Safety News that up to a third of the honey on U.S. store shelves had been illegally imported from China, where beekeepers have employed an antibiotic that causes DNA damage in children and is potentially carcinogenic. Because many Chinese beekeepers also use old methods and store honey in unlined, lead-soldered drums, Chinese honey is also high in lead, which is why it’s been banned for export to the U.S. and Europe. But despite the ban, Chinese honey is illegally imported and lands on U.S. store shelves.

Fast-forward to this month and another round of testing by Food Safety News, which found that more than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores has had all traces of pollen completely filtered out. Pollen is the only way to identify the source of honey–in fact, the FDA says any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t even honey. Food Safety News explains: “Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen, which is the only foolproof sign identifying the source of the honey. It is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of their honey – some containing illegal antibiotics – on the U.S. market for years.”

Food Safety News bought more than 60 jars, jugs and bears-full of honey from grocery stores, drug stores, natural food stores and restaurants in 10 states and the District of Columbia, and had the contents analyzed by Vaughn Bryant, a professor at Texas A&M University and one of the nation’s top pollen investigators.

His findings?

  • 76 percent of the samples from grocery stores had all pollen removed.
  • 100 percent of honey from pharmacies had all pollen removed.
  • 77 percent of the honey from big box stores had all pollen removed.
  • 100 percent of the individual honey packets from restaurants like McDonald’s and KFC had the pollen removed.
  • Yet 100 percent of the samples Food Safety News bought from farmer’s markets, coops and natural grocery stores had the full, anticipated amount of honey.

Food Safety News lists specific brands of honey with no pollen in this PDF.

Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association, sums up these findings with clarity, saying that removing all pollen from honey is contrary to marketing the highest quality product possible. “I don’t know of any U.S. producer that would want to do that. Elimination of all pollen can only be achieved by ultra-filtering and this filtration process does nothing but cost money and diminish the quality of the honey,” Jensen told Food Safety News. “In my judgment, it is pretty safe to assume that any ultra-filtered honey on store shelves is Chinese honey and it’s even safer to assume that it entered the country uninspected and in violation of federal law,” he added.  

This is all horrible news for us honey-lovers, but it is good news for the local honey movement. As this stunning new research shows, buying locally produced food isn’t just good for bolstering healthy economies and improving community–it may also be vital to our health and wellness. Please spread the word to anyone whose health you care about! (To search for local food producers, visit localharvest.org)

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