Some of the honey on the shelves of Britain’s biggest supermarkets may have been adulterated with cheap sugar syrups, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Tests on own-brand honeys from Co-op, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda suggest they were bloated with cheap rice and corn syrups – unbeknownst to retailers.
If the analysis, using a new generation of ‘nuclear magnetic resonance’ tests, is proven, it would represent the biggest food fraud in the UK since the horse meat scandal in 2013.
But honey importers and supermarkets insist the tests, which analyze the types of sugar in honey and select those that come from a factory rather than bees, are inaccurate and cannot be trusted.
The dispute prompted Tesco last night to join calls from academics and politicians for the government to establish a new national testing regime.
Tests on own-brand honeys from UK supermarkets commissioned by the Honey Authenticity Project found that nine products, including Tesco Clear Honey 340g and Co-op Clear Honey 454g (above), contained psicose, a sugar that does not break down. normally not found naturally in honey and which is a marker for possible syrup adulteration
The UK imports 50,000 tonnes of honey every year – around a third from China – but UK and EU beekeepers are wondering how China can produce it for as little as £ 1.10 a kilo when it typically costs at least £ 3.50 in Europe.
“This price difference can only be explained by the massive addition of sugar syrup,” said Etienne Bruneau, of Copa-Cogeca, who represents European farmers.
Such claims last week saw the release of test results on own-brand honeys from UK supermarkets commissioned by the Honey Authenticity Project.
Thirteen brands of honey have been subjected to more than 240 tests by FoodQS, an accredited laboratory in Germany.
He found that nine products, including Tesco Clear Honey 340g and Co-op Clear Honey 454g, contained psicose, a sugar that is not normally found naturally in honey and is a marker for possible syrup adulteration.
Ten of the 13, including Asda Set Pure Honey and Sainsbury’s Clear Honey, tested positive for the presence of enzymes indicating they may be “adulterated with inverted syrup.”
Bernd Kampf, Managing Director of FoodQS, said: “We detected more than one sign of adulteration in all samples. Some show many positive results for adulteration ”.
Ten of the 13, including Asda Set Pure Honey (left) and Sainsbury’s Clear Honey (right), have tested positive for the presence of enzymes indicating they could be ‘adulterated with reverse syrup’
Professor Chris Elliott, director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, which led the government investigation into horse meat, said: “The bleaching of honey is one of the most big jobs in the food industry. Large supermarkets do a lot of authenticity testing, but the rest of the market is largely open to exploitation.
Scientists and policymakers have failed to agree on a definitive testing regime for honey, which means different labs are using different techniques and getting a mix of results.
Labor shadow environmental secretary Luke Pollard said last night: “Ministers are aware of this practice, but they appear to have done nothing to stop it. “
A spokesperson for the Food Standards Agency said, “We are looking at these test results to get a more complete picture of the affected products. “
Tesco said, “Our brand’s honey is 100% pure, natural and can be directly traced back to the beekeeper. We recognize that honey authenticity testing is a complex area and call on industry, governments and testing labs to work together to build a more transparent testing regime.
Co-op said: “Our supplier tests every batch of our honey to make sure it complies with UK and EU legislation. The method used in the German test results is not robust and does not meet regulatory standards ”.
And an Asda spokesperson said: “The product featured in this report is a blend of pure honeys from different origins that are regularly tested for purity. This report is based on limited, non-industry standard testing which cannot accurately differentiate honey from the various blends in our product.
Sainsbury’s did not respond.