Sarah Damian – November 8, 2011
Food industry efforts to conceal the whole truth about its products continue to reinforce the importance of whistleblowers, as did the recent investigation on honey sold in the U.S. that shows, more often than not, it can't really be considered honey at all.
Food Safety News reports that more than three-fourths of honey sold in U.S. grocery stores has been "ultra-filtered" to the point that it no longer contains pollen, which the FDA dictates must be present to call a product honey. The pollen is also the only verifiable evidence as to where the honey came from – a clue as to why it's filtered out. This blatant transparency barrier implies that the industry has a lot to hide.
As FSN investigative reporter Andrew Schneider unveiled in August, a large portion of honey consumed in this country is illicitly imported from China, where heavily subsidized honey is contaminated with illegal animal antibiotics. In order to mask the honey's source and escape American tariffs, the Chinese producers rely on this pollen disappearing act which is the ultra-filtering process – on top of other sneaky tactics, like routing product through other countries and changing labels.
This is a well-known problem among industry and government regulators alike, but that hasn't changed a thing. The FDA is infamous for its lack of import inspection capability, and the agency hasn't shown much enthusiasm for addressing these shady dealings. Grocery chains seem indifferent, too, allegedly unable to provide their suppliers' "proprietary" information.
Some senators have pushed FDA to implement a national standard of identity for honey to stop such deceptive manufacturing processes. Also, the EU just changed labeling regulations that will require honey products to include "pollen" on their list of ingredients.
Unless FDA's willingness to hold industry responsible picks up in a similar fashion, the public will have to rely on individuals brave enough to blow the whistle to tell if honey bought at the store is, in fact, real honey.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.