SYDNEY: Honey is the world’s third-most adulterated food, with nearly one in five samples of Australian honey affected, a study has found.
According to a study published in the Scientific Reports journal on Tuesday (Oct 2), the addition of cane sugar or corn syrup as well as the mislabelling of geographic origin are common fraudulent practices in honey markets.
Professor Mark Taylor from Macquarie University led the study, along with PhD student Xiaoteng Zhou, Helen Salouros and Shiva Prasad.
Their investigation looked at honey samples from Australia along with 18 other countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Oceania.
The report defined “genuine honey” as a natural product produced entirely by bees.
Adulteration of honey occurs when substances such as corn syrup or sugar cane are added to increase product volume. Researchers were able to differentiate these compounds by looking at their respective carbon isotopes.
Analyses showed that 27 per cent of commercial honey samples tested were of “questionable authenticity”.
More than half the samples sourced from Asia, mainly China, were adulterated. A further examination of 38 Australian honey samples obtained from supermarkets also showed that 18 per cent, or almost one in five, had been adulterated.
Australia is the world’s fourth-largest exporter of honey with the industry valued at around A$4 billion (US$2.9 billion) to A$6 billion a year.
Recent scandals in which the “Australian product” logo was falsely used on products claiming to be Australian honey has raised concerns about the authenticity of the honey origin and quality.
"Blended honey of unknown origin has been known to contain antibiotics, toxins, irradiated pollen or even alkaloids with the potential to cause organ damage," the study said.
The findings come several weeks after the industry was put under the spotlight in relation to imported honey.
A report by the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday said the scandal implicated some of the country’s biggest supermarket chains as well as Capilano’s Allowrie brand, which blends local and imported Chinese honey.
Capilano, Australia's biggest listed honey company, has denied any issues with its products and criticised the type of test used to detect the impurities, pointing out it differed from the official Australian test.
In response to the Macquarie University study, the Australia Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC) issued a statement pledging to look into the findings.
“The Australian beekeeping industry is a small industry with a big impact. The AHBIC takes the quality and safety of Australian honey very seriously. Australian honey is renowned globally for its high quality and unique diversity of characteristics.
“AHBIC will meet as an industry once the report is available to discuss and agree to actions to fully ensure the high quality of Australian honey. It will determine if any additional beekeeper training on good beekeeping practices is required as a result of the information contained within the report.
“Australian consumers should feel confident in buying Australian honey,” it added.