RE: Honey It’s Not
In April of 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offered a draft copy of new regulations concerning the labeling of honey sold in the United States. This proposed regulation was a foot-dragging response to a petition filed in 2006 by the American Beekeeper Federation requesting the FDA to specify the definition of honey as being only the substance that comes from bees. After five years (2011) the FDA rejected the request with the reasoning that every reasonable person knows what honey is. Three years later in 2014, the FDA was forced by its weak justification to agree to regulate the labels on honey but only as a gesture of confidence for the consumer, not beekeepers. The regulation is still in draft form as of this writing.
Here are the numbers. In 2013 residents of the United States consumed 400 million pounds of honey. The beekeepers of the United States only produced 149 million pounds. We imported 251 million pounds of honey or at least a golden colored substance called honey. One batch that came through Mexico that year was so adulterated that Customs seized it. The American Beekeeper Federation wanted the definition in place to stop the importation of adulterated honey. Their argument was only if the honey was free of fillers and unadulterated with other non-bee substances should the product be called honey.
In 2013, American honey cost $2.12 a pound for producers. Importing from other countries was much cheaper, especially if the honey was bulked up with inexpensive filler. Imports from Brazil, Mexico and the Soviet Union were impounded by the FDA during the 1990’s but apparently little has been done to stop the flow of adulterated honey in the intervening years.
Honey imports are not inspected because “FDA laboratories do not have the instrumental capability to analyze honey according to the Official Methods of Analysis of AOAC International, AOAC Official Method 991.41, which requires an isotope ration mass spectrometer.” (FDA Import Alert 36-01). This admission of the FDA that they do not own a spectrometer highlights that the honey you see on the shelf in the grocery store is honey-flavored corn syrup or more common, honey-flavored rice syrup. Rice syrup already has a color and consistency similar to honey.
The proposed labeling regulations will be meaningless. The FDA has no equipment to analyze honey and most honey is imported, where there is no monitoring of contents. A food corporation can plead ignorance and there is no follow-up regulation that an importing company must verify the purity of the honey at its source – a willful but legal ignorance.
Rice syrup is just as bad for the human body as corn syrup, which is already documented as harmful. The health benefits of honey, which has been used in wound care and medicine for millennia, are absent from the common products labeled “Honey” on the grocery shelves. Bacteria cannot live in honey. Thus coating an open wound in honey seals the injury from infection. The other words such as “pure”, “genuine”, “100 percent” are all empty, unregulated words by the FDA on honey labels.
Pure honey is expensive. However, purchasing the most expensive honey on the shelf is no guarantee of purity because there is no definition of honey and labeling is worthless. This is one product where the only guarantee is buying from the source, that is to say, direct from the beekeeper.
If this circumstance is not difficult enough, we are experiencing a die-off of European honeybees in the United States. The likely culprit is a pesticide manufactured by Bayer. “The deadly pesticide is one of a fairly new family known as the neonicotinoids—“neonics” for short—developed a decade or so ago to replace organophosphates and carbamates, which are also highly toxic but dissipate far more quickly.” (earthjustice.org) However, lobbyists for the company have convinced the Department of Agriculture not to pull the pesticide from the American market despite the European Union banning the pesticide in 2011. There is a distinct possibility that we will not taste pure honey for years to come in the United States.
My recipe began with a base recipe that called for ¾ cup of honey. Obviously the recipe was written for a more innocent time. By switching to molasses as the source of sweet and gooey, the honey was cut back to two tablespoons, although it could use more. Molasses has a harsher taste, wonderful in barbeque sauce to balance the bite of vinegar; however, using molasses forces the cook to rely on the maple syrup for a gentler, sweet taste. Due to the present lack of confidence in pureness of honey, this recipe must reach out for other sweet ingredients that must be combined to make up for the lack of honey. Tch.
Lessons From Granola #6: The Other Ingredients and Dollars