In 2015 the European Commission organised an EU coordinated control plan to assess the prevalence on the market of honey adulterated with sugars and honeys mislabelled with regard to their botanical source or geographical origin.
All 28 EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland participated in the plan. They collected over 2000 samples of honey at all stages of the supply chain.
The coordinated control plan (Commission Recommendation C (2015) 1558) foresaw a 3 tiered approach for the analysis of the collected honey samples:
- All samples were analysed by the EU countries for sensory characteristics and pollen profiles to check compliance with relevant provisions of the EU Honey Directive (001/110/EC)
- Compliant samples were then submitted to chemical sugar analysis.
- The samples which passed all these checks (or seemed suspicious) were then sent to the Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) for additional tests specifically targeted at identifying adulteration with added sugars.
The non-compliances detected by the EU countries in Tier 1 and Tier 2 tests, were mostly related to the declaration of the botanical source (7%) and to adulteration with sugar (6%). Non-compliances related to the declaration of the geographical origin were less frequent (2%). Some non-compliances related to the botanical source are probably unintentional and the result of bees foraging a wide variety of plants, despite the hives being very close to the plant species identified as the botanical source.
EU countries submitted to the JRC, 893 samples of honey which they had found to be compliant or suspicious during tests in Tier 1 and Tier 2. The JRC applied an advanced method of testing to these samples, which can better distinguish different sugars than by current validated methods.
The JRC found that 14 % of the samples they tested contained added sugar. This was further broken down according to geographical origin, point of collection (i.e. producer, packager or retailer) and type of honey. Overall, the results from the honey coordinated control plan indicate that the practice of adding sugars to honey is occurring, both within the EU and in third countries.
The Commission will discuss with the relevant stakeholders an appropriate follow-up to this control plan.
Please see the JRC's final report with a full summary of the results and recommendations.