Food-safety experts have found that much of the honey sold in theUnited States isn't actually honey, but a concoction of corn or ricesyrup, malt sweeteners or "jiggery" (cheap, unrefined sugar), plus asmall amount of genuine honey, according toWired UK.
Worse, some honey -much of which is imported from Asia - has beenfound to contain toxins like lead and other heavy metals, as well asdrugs like chloramphenicol, an antibiotic, according to a Department of Justice newsrelease.
And because cheap honey fromChinawas being dumped on the U.S. market at artificially low prices, Chinesehoney is now subject to additional import duties. So Chinese exporterssimply ship their honey to Thailand or other countries, where it isrelabeled to hide its origins, according to NPR.org.
This international "honey-laundering" scandal has now resulted in aJustice Department indictment of two U.S. companies and the charging offive people with selling mislabeled honey that also contain edchloramphenicol.
Honey Solutions of Baytown, Texas, and Groeb Farms of Onsted, Mich.,have agreed to pay millions of dollars in fines and implement corporate compliance measures following a lengthy Justice Department investigation.
"This is a huge deal for the industry. This is the first admission bya U.S. packer," of knowingly importing mislabeled honey, Eric Wenger,chairman of True Source Honey, told NPR. True Source Honey is an industry consortium with an auditing system to guarantee the actual origin of honey.
Honey isn't the only food product subject to impurities and mislabeling.Olive oil is often cut with cheaper oils and sold at premium prices, a practicethat's expected to expand as a shortage of the oil (caused by a 2012drought in southern Europe) hits global markets.
A possible solution to the honey-provenance quandary has come from anunlikely source: astronomy. A laser isotope ratio-meter was developedto search for methane gas on Mars, according to Wired UK. But that sametechnology can be used to analyze the smoke given off by heated honey,olive oil or other food to find its unique carbon "fingerprint" anddetermine its origin.
A sample of honey, for example, can be matched to the flowers of a specific geographic region through the laser analysis.
"You will know, in the case of olive oil, if it genuinely comes fromSicily or if it is a counterfeited fake," Damien Weidmann, laserspectroscopy expert at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Harwell,England, told Wired UK.
Honey is an ideal application for the laser isotope ratio-meterbecause "it's an expensive product to buy, but you can create acounterfeit product that looks very similar using sugar instead ofbees," David Bell, director of Protium (manufacturer of the isotoperatio-meter), told Wired UK.