By Vina Medenilla
Unfortunately, 75 to 86.5 percent of local honey brands in the Philippine market are adulterated with sugar syrups. The distribution of these fake honey in the market is still rampant today, posing a major threat to the industry and consumers.
According to the Philippine National Standard for honey, it shall not be mixed with any food ingredients and additives other than honey, nor “be heated or processed to such an extent that its essential composition is changed and/or its quality is impaired.”
Moreover, “Chemical or biochemical treatments shall not be used to influence honey crystallisation.”
However, this is not what we are seeing in the market today due to honey adulteration and fraud.
Honey adulteration refers to the addition or complete substitution of honey for inexpensive sugar syrups, typically derived from C4 plants like sugarcane and corn.
This tricky tactic allows fake honey producers and sellers to increase production volume and lessen production costs.
Consequences to the industry and consumers
Honey is widely consumed and known for its antimicrobial, anti-tumor, antioxidant, antidiabetic, and wound-healing properties. While these health benefits have led to high market demand for honey, it has also made the commodity an easy target for adulteration and replication.
Buyers who are unaware of fake honey and consume it, assuming it is harmless, may suffer from the negative effects of excessive intake of sugar syrup in the long run. Several studies have found that intake of high-fructose corn products is linked to coronary heart disease and arthritis.
Not only does this fraudulent practice affect the consumers, but the honey industry as a whole.
Today, fake honey may be bought for as low as one-third the cost of pure honey. This translates to the industry losing about P225 million per year to adulteration and fraud.
A research project by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (DOST-PNRI) titled “Authenticity testing and fingerprinting of Philippine honey using stable isotope analysis,” revealed that eradicating adulterated honey can result in a tenfold increase in income for authentic honey producers.
To fight disinformation and honey fraud, Angel T. Bautista VII, Ph.D., the leader of the project, mentioned that they already submitted the study findings to the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Standards (BAFS).
Their team has also proposed the revision of the Philippine National Standards for honey to highlight isotope-based testing, which the researchers think will provide a long-term solution to honey adulteration and fraud.
Internal Standard Stable Carbon Isotope Ratio Analysis (ISCIRA) or AOAC 998.12 is an internationally-accepted testing procedure to check the authenticity of honey.
This isotopic analysis is considered “foolproof” and more accurate compared to conventional physicochemical analysis, which examines the sugar profile of honey.
According to Bautista, the downside of the conventional physicochemical analysis is that the results can be easily manipulated by simply adjusting the physical and chemical properties of the adulterated honey and matching it with the real honey’s sugar profile.
Isotopic analysis is more precise in the sense that it can predict which bee species made your honey. With an 87.5 percent accuracy, this type of test can detect where the honey came from. It is also less expensive, costing P6,000, versus the physicochemical analysis, which costs P8,000.
Bautista says, “Stable isotope analysis is a powerful tool for food authenticity and traceability.”
The honey issue remains a burden for both legitimate honey producers, who are losing considerable sales due to the widespread distribution of adulterated honey in the market, and consumers who are deceived into buying them.
Therefore, to protect the sector and consumers, tighter policies and implementation must be adopted.
The information above is the results of a study implemented by the DOST-PNRI, which was presented in a webinar streamed via the World Bee Day-Philippines group.