Honey offers another reason to buy local

Like many other people trying to use local foods, we have replaced most of the sweeteners we use with honey.

Like many other people trying to use local foods, we have replaced most of the sweeteners we use in our house with honey. And we buy our honey from local producers.

Food Safety News just published the results of tests done on the honey found in U.S. stores. (Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey by Andrew Schneider, www.foodsafetynews.com).

Over three-quarters of the honey tested could not pass safety standards established by the World Health Organization. Why? Because pollen particles have been carefully filtered out.

And the only reason to remove pollen is to prevent tracing honey to its source. Sort of like cutting the labels off garments.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said the de-pollinated stuff cannot be called honey, but the FDA does not enforce that standard, with the result that the ultra-filtered product is everywhere.

Of samples bought by Food Safety News at groceries, 76 per cent had all the pollen removed. All honey from major drugstore chains had no pollen.

Honey bought from dollar stores was not mentioned, but the report found that 100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions had the pollen removed.

They did not even attempt to test any of the 60 per cent of imported honey that goes straight into the food industry for use in baked goods, sauces, etc.

Every one of the samples Food Safety News bought at farmers markets, co-ops and health food stores had the full, anticipated amount of pollen.

And where would most of the de-pollinated honey have come from? Well, China, of course. And India.

They take the pollen out so that animal antibiotics or other contaminants cannot be traced back to the country of origin. It is common knowledge in the industry that honey is laundered in secondary countries.

In Scotland, when I was growing up, there were usually two kinds of clear honey: clover and heather. The heather honey was much darker and richer in flavour and it was preferred in our household.

In Canada, honey has not been classified by floral indicators (that would be pollens), so I guess we rely on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to verify honey as Canadian-produced.

“The fact is, unless you’re buying from a beekeeper, you’re at risk,” said John Ambrose, apiculturist and professor and entomologist at North Carolina State University.

So there is another argument for buying local. The industrial food systems that dominate our retail food outlets have become so complicated that you have no idea what you are getting with a simple, seemingly wholesome product like honey.

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Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Foodshare Society and president of the multi-stakeholder co-op, Heritage Foodservice. She can be reached at: marjorieandalstewart@shaw.ca.