What Passes for Honey on U.S. Shelves

8 Nov

This is a story worth passing along from Care2 Daily and is especially important to people with allergies.

What Passes for Honey on U.S. Shelves

A beekeeper overheard me talking about a friend who had moved to California’s Bay Area and was suffering from allergies she had never experienced before. “Local honey,” the beekeeper prescribed. “It has pollen from plants her body may be reacting to. A teaspoon a day should help her.”

Over-the-counter allergy remedies were making my friend groggy, so I bought a jar of honey and passed on the suggestion to her. The worst I thought could happen is that she would enjoy the taste of local honey. (At the time, I was unaware that some people have allergic reactions to particular pollens in honey.) As it turned out, honey did the trick, much to my friend’s relief.

Tests by Food Safety News Ring Alarm Bells

Anyone hoping for similar results will be disappointed with three-quarters of the honey found on U.S. grocery store shelves. Food Safety News bought more than 60 samples from 10 states and the District of Columbia. They sent the jars, jugs and plastic bears to Texas A&M University, where Vaughn Bryant, director of the Palynology Research Laboratory, analyzed them.

Bryant is a palynologist, someone who studies spores and pollen. He is also melissopalynologist. That’s someone who studies honey pollen. No one is more skilled than Bryant, who spends half his professional life doing forensic pollen studies.

What he learned in testing for Food Safety News should make every honey consumer wary. His key results:

  • 76 percent of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed. These were stores like TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop and King Soopers.
  • 100 percent of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS Pharmacy had no pollen.
  • 77 percent of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target and H-E-B had the pollen filtered out.
  • 100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smucker, McDonald’s and KFC had the pollen removed.
  • Bryant found that every one of the samples Food Safety News bought at farmers markets, co-ops and “natural” stores like PCC and Trader Joe’s had the full, anticipated amount of pollen.

Why It Matters

Pollen-free honey may not sound like a problem, but without pollen it is not possible to trace the source. Food Safety News reported last August:

A third or more of all the honey consumed in the U.S. is likely to have been smuggled in from China and may be tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals. A Food Safety News investigation has documented that millions of pounds of honey banned as unsafe in dozens of countries are being imported and sold here in record quantities.

No pollen, no traceability, no assurance of safety. Furthermore, when pollen is filtered from honey, so are many of the health benefits such as allergy relief and the nutritional value of vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients in bee pollen.

The Food Safety News test results come just as the EU has decided to order honey producers to test for the presence of unauthorized genetically modified pollen and to identify pollen as an ingredient rather than a natural component of honey.  Industry spokespeople fear the ruling will put many small-scale beekeepers and honey producers out of business.

The irony is that while Food Safety News is raising the red flag over the honey supply found on U.S. shelves, the EU may be making it impossible for its honey producers to keep the health benefits intact. For that, we have the vigilance of a German amateur beekeeper (who identified small amounts of GM pollen in his honey) and the steamroller spread of GM crops to thank.

For honey lovers who want nutrition, health and safety along with sweetness, farmers’ markets and organic honey producers offer the only reliable sources.

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