EUROPE – Beekeeping is endangered around the world as cheap imports of counterfeit honey continue to flood the market, with severe consequences on world food production.

According to a research published in December 2016, foreign sugars were found 1.4 times in every 10 honey samples tested by the European Joint Research Centre.

Around 20% of honey either declared as blends of EU honey or unblended honey, bearing a geographical reference related to a member state, was found suspicious of containing added sugars.

The rate of suspicious honey was almost 10% for blends of EU and non-EU honey, blends of non-EU honey and honey of unknown origins.

Honey fraud would include selling cheaper multi-floral honey as single source honey at higher selling point; by adding sugar syrups to increase volume, or by harvesting it ahead of time and drying artificially in large ‘honey factories’, to cut time and costs.

These do not meet EU’s legal definition of honey and is considered fake.

“There is no single method for authenticity testing for honey – because there are so many ways of adulteration,” says Dr Stephan Schwarzinger, a professor of structural biology at the University of Bayreuth.

“It’s like doping analysis in sports. The people who are testing for doping never know if there is a new drug on the market.

When you consider the variety of syrups available, there is no single technology that would cover them all. You need to have a look at many chemical and physical parameters.”

Europe receives from China 50% of its honey imports, with the largest importers being UK, Belgium and Spain.

China, one of the largest producers of honey, produced 473,600 tonnes of honey in 2014, as compared to the EU’s 161,031 tonnes.

Between 2000 and 2014, its production increased by 88% driven by a rise in exports, which earned it US$276.6 million in 2016. However, the number of beehives only increased by 21%.

The country’s bee population is declining due to pesticide poisoning, pollution and loss of bee habitats due to urbanization.

The EU Commission has however been uncooperative to the beekeeper requests to aid them in protecting and conserving the bees.

“Responsible in the end is the Commission – if the commission would finally allow for [specifying] the origin of honey, it would enable consumers to make better choices, and this would put pressure on the industry to clean up its act,” lamented Haefeker.

“But for them, free trade is almost a religion and consumer protection is something they have to be dragged towards kicking and screaming,” he added.

“The drop in (the) honey bee population is not as severe [as other insects], as beekeepers always try to make up for the losses.

This results in honey bees being more and more important for pollination because the other pollinators are gone. You have an ageing population because it is economically unattractive.

If the economics of beekeeping are gone, there is no incentive to reconstitute the colonies after the losses,” warned Haefeker.