Organic Food

Honey – Know Your Source

Honey is considered by many of us to be a staple to have on hand for cooking as well as lavishing on a homemade biscuit. I don’t think I’d be too far off to say that when most of us pick out a jar of honey and it says pure honey — we think it’s pure honey.

Another assumption that I’ll bet would be very close to truth is that when the label says “product of U.S.” we believe it to be a product of the U.S. and furthermore think it’s fine and healthful to consume.

Did you know we could and probably have been wrong on both accounts!

Of the 400 million pounds of honey consumed in the U.S. each year, U.S. beekeepers can only supply about 48% of what’s needed here.  The other 52% comes from 41 other countries!

Thanks to a private shipping intelligence service, it is known that in an 18 month period (in 2010 and 2011) the U.S. imported 208 million pounds of honey.  Almost 60% of that (123 million pounds) came from Asian countries (like India) that are known laundering points for illegal Chinese honey.

What’s Wrong with Chinese Honey?

  • Although China has many state-of-the-art processing plants — their beekeepers don’t.  Tiny operators often use unlined, lead-soldered drums to collect and store honey before it’s collected for processing. Much of the honey comes into our country with lead in it.

Lead (a heavy metal) is absorbed by our organs and retained in the body. It inhibits oxygen and calcium transport in the body and alters nerve transmission in the brain.  In children it’s even more dangerous and can cause reduced IQ, altered growth, and in rare cases death.

  • Small amounts of the animal antibiotic, chloramphenicol, which can cause a fatal reaction in some people, has been detected in some of the honey.
  • Are you ready for this one?  — It has been reported that another favorite deception among Chinese honey brokers was to mix sugar water, malt sweeteners, corn or rice syrup, jaggery (made in India from palm tree sap), barley malt sweetener or other additives with a bit of actual honey.  In recent years they’ve even eliminated the honey all together. They just use thickened, colored, natural or chemical sweeteners and then label it as honey.

First question that comes to mind is “Why Can’t They Test the Honey and Know?”

Most reputable honey can be analyzed to match the pollen in the honey to the flowers from their specific region of the world.  There are also simpler tests to detect the presence of commercial sweeteners and other contaminates.

But the bad guys seems to be staying one step ahead. Some Chinese producers have come up with an ultra-filtration system that removes or conceals all floral fingerprints and indicators of contaminants. The resulting product which has no color, no flavor, no nothing — is then mixed with real Indian honey.

What if it’s U.S. Honey?

It has been documented that a record amount of the Chinese honey was being purchased by major U.S. packers. They do this of course to keep the cost down – in spite of the dangers.

Food Safety News – a daily Web-based newspaper dedicated to reporting on issues surrounding food safety — contacted Suebee Co-op – our nation’s oldest and largest honey packer and seller to get a response to these allegations.  They’d also hoped to find out exactly where the company got its honey.  Suebee did not respond to repeated calls and emails.  Other major honey sellers were contacted and also did not respond. (That tells me they had something to hide.)

List of Honey Without Pollen (Not real Honey)

Food Safety News gives a list of the honey they tested that shows no traces of pollen. (Remember – that means it’s not real honey.) Among the brands found on the list are Archer Farms Organic Classic Honey, Busy Bee Organic Classic Honey, Full Circle Pure Honey, Great Value Clover Honey, Mel-o 100% Pure Honey, Natural Sue Bee Clover Honey, Safeway Clover Honey, Walgreen Mel-o Honey, Wegman Clover Honey, and Winnie the Pooh, Pure clover.

Surprised?  I sure was.

Although its not all inclusive — since it’s just the brands Food Safety News tested — it still might be helpful to print it out and keep it in your wallet or purse.

What to Avoid

  • Since tests show that more than 75% of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores isn’t what the bees produced, I would suggest avoiding all honey sold at the big food stores, drugstores, and big box stores.
  • Tests show 100% of honey in the small individual serving portions in places like McDonalds and KFC have had the pollen removed. (Remember – the pollen being removed is to conceal how the product has been contaminated.)
  • Although tests found you have a better chance of getting the real thing if the label says organic ——you can’t be sure.  Out of seven samples tested that carried an organic label, five were ok.
  • About 60% of the foreign honey is sold to the food industry for baked goods, drinks, sauces, and processed food. Another reason to stay away from these products.

The Good News – Best Places to Get Real Honey

In the tests done at the request of Food Safety News it was found that all of the samples of honey — bought at farmers markets, co-0ps, and “natural” stores — had the full, anticipated, amount of pollen.  That means — it was real honey. How encouraging!

Sometimes at a farmers markets you’ll find the beekeeper selling the honey.  Direct from the beekeeper is a great source!

At co-ops,  “natural” stores or  small “health food” stores you’ll most likely find honey that is local.  This way — you could even visit the source if you wanted.  Possibly the store owners or managers will be able to tell you about  the people who raise it.

When I can, I buy honey directly from a beekeeper I know. The rest of the time, I buy from a “health food” store in Richmond that carries local honey from a beekeeper in the area.

The FDA?

In theory — the job of protecting consumers from dangerous honey, identifying it as adulterated and therefore illegal for importation falls to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

If you’ve been keeping up with the shenanigans of the FDA of late — you know that’s not happening. They’re probably too busy raiding organic food stores here in the U.S and destroying sources of healthful raw milk to worry much about the dangers from imported honey.

Final Thought

Don’t rely on the government or the powers-that-be to make sure your food is safe. There’s too much proof out there to show that’s not gonna happen.  Knowing your source for anything you eat is your best bet.


If you want even more details be sure to read the Food Safety News article on the tests I mentioned.  And if really want to know even more, check out the in depth article on the adulterated honey, banned in Europe, but flooding U.S. Grocery Shelves!


Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient and its a lot healthier.


All content including photo’s is copyright by Tending My Garden. com  All Rights Reserved.


  • Thanks for this. I’ve been reading through your blog, and I think that it is wonderful. I’m learning lots. I’m gardening in Annapolis, so I’m finding your timing helpful. We keep two hives in the backyard, and this is very interesting information. I am just beginning to realize that FDA is not there to protect us as so many people think, and once you start reading, it’s astounding.

  • Hi Sandra,
    I’m so pleased that you are finding the information I provide helpful. Gardening is easy but there are always lot of little tips to share that make it even easier and a lot of fun.

    Annapolis is such a nice area and very similar to our weather-wise since we are both right on the Chesapeake Bay.

    Glad to hear you have two hives. Hope they have lots of sources for pollen and nectar.

    It is sad that the FDA has become somewhat of a joke. As you are finding out they are “in the pocket” of big agri-business. What it boils down to is that each of us is responsible for finding out as much as we can to protect our health. It can be a bit overwhelming at times, but anything we can do to protect ourselves is definitely in our best interest.

    Sure glad to have you as a reader! And – by the way — how did you find my website?
    Thanks so much for commenting.

  • I found your site through The Helpful Gardener. I was searching for more info. on winter sowing!
    I particularly like the detail that you provide. I’m not a beginner, but I still struggle with various things, and it’s helpful to have someone give more than just the general growing directions. Your beet post recently, is a great example, it cleared up some things for me.
    If you are ever inclined, I battle the Squash Vine Borer and more recently Stink Bugs – maybe some thoughts later when the buggy season gets underway!!
    Happy Gardening,

  • Thanks for letting me know how you found TMG, Sandra.

    Really glad to hear that I’m giving enough info to be helpful. I know what you mean about general growing directions. Everyone seems to want to keep it short and say the same thing that everyone else is saying. I try to add things that are a little different.

    The new “imported” Stink Bugs might be a real problem. There is no natural predator here — since they’re not native to our country.

    I will do something sooner or later on the Squash Vine Borer which along with the squash bug is the bane of those who grow squash.

    Thanks again Sandra.

  • My dad and I love honey so much that we started our own apiary. it all started by my uncle he loves honey to so my dad and I would go and help him. we have a facebook page too. Snodgrass apiary go check it out

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