Fake Honey is Everywhere: Fool’s Liquid GoldAugust 21, 2016
Honey has long been heralded as one of the most beneficial superfoods that we can incorporate into our daily diet. It is loaded with lots of wholesome benefits, it is versatile, and depending on how meticulous you are about brand and origin, relatively inexpensive. Yet, a quick survey of sweetener preferences puts honey well behind refined sugar, brown sugar, commercially-prepared artificial sweetener, and raw Muscovado sugar. We usually come across honey as an ingredient in drinks and in healthy smoothies, or as a sweetener in more complex dishes. Due to its healthful properties, honey is also used in medical formulations. I personally associate honey with sick days, since I like to guzzle warm calamansi juice or mint tea with honey to stave off a nasty cold.
Since honey is not such an integral part of Pinoy cuisine and culture, it is often an ingredient that is reserved for special dishes and preparations. Thus, it is natural that people may not know exactly what they are looking for when honey is in their shopping list, as opposed to say, determining the purity and authenticity of their vinegar, lambanog or other widely used commodities. Sure, you can find honey on supermarket shelves, but how sure are you that the honey you are buying is natural and unadulterated?
A controversy has sprung in the internet, discouraging the use of certain honey brands in the Philippine market because they turn out to be counterfeit. Certain regulations such as the Consumer Act of the Philippines (RA no. 7349) hold that consumer products that are represented with benefits or characteristics that they do not have fall under the prohibition against deceptive sales acts or practices.
We did a little investigating as to this apparent cheating, and here is what we found out:
Before we proceed to the facts of this scandal, let us revisit what we know about honey.
If you paid attention to 4th grade Science, you will remember that honey is made from the nectar of flowering plants and trees. Nectar is a sugar-rich liquid made by plants’ flowers, which is collected by female worker bees that belong to genus Apis. The bees bring back the nectar to the hive, where it gets broken down into sugars and stored in honeycombs.
A little more on honeycombs: these intricately patterned cells in a beehive are a natural marvel. Beeswax, which is secreted by certain members of the hive, make up these honeycombs. A wonder of nature, combs follow a hexagonal pattern that is optimized for storing honey. It has antibacterial properties that keep microorganisms from polluting their precious stores. The comb’s design is also well suited to keeping the hive cool. The exposed surface area allows evaporation and cooling. Evaporation is important in allowing the honey to achieve its sticky and viscous consistency. Aside from the genius natural engineering of the hives, bees themselves “fan” the honey with their wings to aid evaporation and to adjust the concentration of the honey: too much water and the whole motherlode starts to sour.
So why do bees create honey? Think of it as bees saving something for the rainy day. Bees normally collect nectar and produce honey to feed their young or other members of the hive who are unable to feed outside. They would make more than what they need, and the role of a good beekeeper is to make sure that only enough honey is harvested for human consumption in order to leave behind a healthy supply for the hive’s consumption.
Honey and health
Any reference on natural foods will tell you that honey is basically a gift from Mother Nature herself. Its nutritional and medicinal properties have been revered by several civilizations, and at present, we use honey for different purposes other than sweetening food and drink. As mentioned, honey constitutes alternative medicinal preparations and medicaments. Pure, natural honey is composed of roughly 80% carbohydrates, 18% water, and 2% various dissolved vitamins, minerals and amino acids, making it a great source of energy. It also has integral enzymes that are beneficial to bodily functions such as healing, promoting the release of other healthful hormones, and strengthening the immune system.
Honey has antifungal and antibacterial properties that help us fight off diseases and certain infections. This is applicable to honey when ingested, and also, when applied topically. Journal articles report the use of honey to prevent itching and dandruff on the scalp. Skin lesions can also benefit from a thin layer of honey. Redness and breaking out can be helped with a consistent salve of the sweet goo. Furthermore, honey’s intrinsic properties and contents make it a great alternative to commercially bought burn ointments.
There are volumes and volumes of studies that champion the use of honey for the prevention of cancer and heart disease. Its antioxidant properties help in the removal of free radicals from the body. As an excellent ergogenic aid, it also helps boost athletic performance by helping maintain blood sugar levels, aid in muscle recuperation after stress, and as a glycogen replacing aid, which helps regulate the amount of insulin in the body.
Given all these important medicinal properties, it is of utmost importance that the honey that we consume is fresh, safe, and most importantly, all-natural. With a naturally occurring substance with such astounding benefits, all honey substitutes simply pale in comparison. There is no way you can acquire these benefits from using other honey-like products. Adulteration and misrepresentation of honey can be harmful to human health. When a substitute is passed off as honey, it could lead to scores of unhealthy results, such as weight gain and diabetes.
In the Philippines, CEM’s Honey contributes the largest percentage in honey sales. CEM products are widely available in supermarkets and grocery stores, and they come in different brand names and labels such as Superior Honey, Prime Brand Finest Honey, Dark Amber Tropical and many more. However, apiaries from all over the country have recently filed complaints against this brand because of alleged misrepresentation and fraud.
The Food and Drug Authority came out with Advisory No. 2016-073 as a public warning against the use and consumption of CEM’s products. According to the Advisory, CEM is not registered with the FDA, and therefore, all of its products have not been verified as safe and fit for human consumption.
The FDA issued a reminder that for products to be able to satisfy the standard tem for “honey” the said products must not have added into it any food ingredient such as other additives, nor shall any other additions be made other than honey. Labeling requirements mandate that labels of all prepackaged food must carry the true nature of food. CEM’s products do not qualify any standard for honey, and are therefore not to be considered as such.
There are tell-tale signs. Given the fickle nature of beekeeping and the inconsistency of yields in honey, CEM’s products are seemingly uniform all throughout. Everything about honey is up to the bees and whatever is happening in nature. The mere color of honey depends on what flowers gave the nectar for its production. Also, CEM has shelves upon shelves of honey products in the market without any clear disclosure of where they source their honey from, such as from what farm or from what country or region of origin. Granting the volume of products that they distribute, it is close to impossible for CEM’s ‘honey’ harvesting practices to be sustainable, let alone for their supply to be as consistent as it is. Moreover, their refusal to address the issue of fraud puts them in a precarious position.
Julian Wright, a British agriculturist who has been working in the Phiilippines, has been on the case in an effort to curb this unethical and criminal practice by CEM. Wright, an expert beekeeper, has launched an investigation and came up with the conclusion that CEM’s dodgy business practices, in addition to its absence from the FDA’s official roster of certified suppliers casts a very dark shadow of suspicion on its products. In his website, Wright published the proceedings of his investigation, with photos of CEM’s sketchy headquarters in Mandaluyong adding fuel to this controversy. Repeated contacts with CEM’s administration has yielded no proper debunking of Wright’s claims of fraud, and as of writing, CEM has yet to comment on the scandal. Needless to say, CEM has not been able to dispel any doubt about their products’ authenticity.
What is alarming is that despite the FDA’s issuance of the public advisory, CEM products are still being sold in major supermarkets all over the country.
Beekeepers take a stand
The beekeeping community has been proactively fighting CEM’s distribution and continued misrepresentation of honey in the Philippine market.
Liaa Magsaysay of Ilog Maria Bee Farm says that they have taken steps in informing the Department of Agriculture about the honey fraud situation in the local market. Sadly, the trade still goes largely unregulated. On the part of small and independent apiaries like Ilog Maria, they build their credibility and reputation by having their honey tested regularly at independent labs, and publishing their results for the benefit of their clientele.
According to Magsaysay, fraudulent honey should be removed from the market because it has no medicinal value and no beneficial enzymes. Consumers have a lot to lose by patronizing products by unverified and unregistered honey sellers. Magsaysay added that the practice puts health conscious people at risk due to falsely perceived natural and medicinal claims.
Unfortunately, there is no quick or easy way to spot fraudulently labeled honey in supermarkets. We run the risk of coming across honey that is unsanitary, impure or in the case of CEM honey, totally fake.
Magsaysay strongly recommends getting to know your neighborhood beekeeper. There are several beekeepers and farms that produce natural honey for the market, and their information are readily available online. Having a good relationship with your producer and supplier guarantees that only fresh, safe and natural honey products are made available to you. Knowing and understanding where your food comes from is integral in making sure that what you are eating is beneficial, and are marketed and sold without any misrepresentation or deceit. Get your honey products straight from the source to be entirely sure that what you are getting is the real deal. Otherwise, as Magsaysay expressed, there is no litmus test that consumers can do at home to spot fake honey as only trained experts, chemists and laboratory technicians can check the purity of bee products. This is done by determining the pollen content in the honey sample.
Report fake honey products
Since CEM honey products are neither registered nor authorized by FDA, supermarkets and other distributors are not allowed to carry or sell the said products. Consumers are urged to work with law enforcement in making sure that the products listed in the advisory are not sold or offered anywhere in the country.
You may contact the FDA at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you may call 857-1991 to 93 to report continuous sale or distribution of unregistered health products. A direct e-mail for reporting the sale of products, email@example.com may be used to alert the authorities of the illegal sale fraudulent products marketed as honey.