How Germany is helping fake honey get into Europe

Weak and bland controls that help fake honey enter the European Union market. This is the main accusation that emerged at a meeting dedicated to honey organized by Copa-Cogeca, the European umbrella group that brings together farms and agricultural cooperatives. News a few weeks ago about the honey fraud scandal involving imports from non-EU countries, which are actually simple sugar syrups made from other raw materials. More details emerged from the meeting, including the negative role of Germany as Europe’s main importer of the valuable fruit of the bees’ work. Berlin would not only be careless, but would also hamper investigations supported by the European Commission and exercise far less control than agreed.

Barriers for beekeepers

Sensitivity and passion for pollinators, which are fundamental to biodiversity as well as honey, have increased in recent years, but so are the barriers to old and new producers who have decided to dedicate themselves to beehives.” , also due to increased energy and packaging costs. There are some key European markets, such as Hungary, Spain and Italy, where the price hike has not been reflected in the market for farmers, so it’s getting harder and harder to “make the two ends meet,” said Yvan Hennion, an industry expert at France’s leading agricultural union, Fnsea. Faced with this rise in costs, consumers and large-scale retailers are looking elsewhere. “Markets prefer imported honey, which is much cheaper than China, the biggest exporter to the EU,” the unionist continued.

Unfair competition

In 2022, over 68 thousand tons of honey would come from Beijing. Argentina follows Ukraine in the list of exporters. The reason why this honey is much cheaper (also) is that it’s usually syrups made from other raw materials mixed with small amounts of real honey. Therefore, consumers are deceived. “We are losing our beekeepers to fraud. Europe needs to wake up. There are young people who are adopting these activities but they are forced to operate in the large-scale distribution market where there is unfair competition. Survive,” stressed Hennion.

Refined technologies

Etienne Bruneau, agronomist and beekeeping specialist at Copa-Cogeca, underlined how the problem of fraud had been known for five years during the first checks on 2200 honeys at European level. about 14% of samples. But at that time, only 10% of the total was checked at the borders. The new survey, this time, focused precisely on “foreign” honey from non-EU countries. In this case, even more alarming figures emerged: More than 40% of honey imported from countries outside the European bloc is fake. This result has been achieved thanks to new, more advanced technologies that can detect various types of adulteration. “The new methods used by the Research Center make it possible to identify polysaccharides, these are syrups that are normally made from beets, rice, and others, and whose chain is “cut” with real honey. But they have succeeded at this level to detect large amounts of fraud,” said Bruneau.

diluted controls

However, fraud is also possible thanks to “internal” contributions: both by European importers who are well aware that they are buying fraudulent goods, and by the authorities responsible for controls, which in some States in particular tend to turn a blind eye. Bruneau said, “The country that imports the most from non-EU countries is Germany. It is surprising that they analyzed over 300 samples while analyzing 32 samples. It is a completely scandalous fact,” said Bruneau, referring to the operation coordinated by the General Directorate. General for health and food safety (Dg Sante) with the participation of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). “They basically didn’t do their job. This is shocking as they are the EU’s main importer. The second country that didn’t meet the criteria was Spain, where they only checked 70% of the samples they were supposed to analyze.” Instead, Poland (84%) and Belgium, who fully respected their mandate, could do better.

100% wrong

There are some countries above all to take advantage of the lack of checks as mentioned earlier. A symbolic example is Beijing. “According to the analysis, 74 percent of the honey from China is adulterated but there is no real honey at the price they sell. In fact, the rest of the honeys are immature honeys and therefore they do not follow the official process. go after the honey, which is 100 percent of the honey from China. “There is a Chinese honey that complies with European standards, but it is ten euros per kilo. The price is such that it is not taken into account by European importers. Serious adulteration data concerns Turkey, 93% of the samples were detected as “wrong” and 100% of those coming from the UK “When they were in the EU, the UK was the country that imported the cheapest honey, basically all Chinese honey, and they knew very well that they were not buying real honey,” the Copa-Cogeca expert accused, but there is something else. key entry point for fake Peking honey.


The problem is indeed in Europe, but it is the Member States that manage the checks and analysis in their own countries. “Portugal is another gateway for Chinese honey, which then goes to Spain, another major importer,” Bruneau said. Ukraine, where most of the honey is imported and then consumed in Member States, is a special case. According to Copa-Cogeca president Pekka Pesonen, Kiev’s is less fraudulent and closer to EU standards. With its request to become a member state, Kiev will immediately tend to adapt the internal requirements to those requested by Brussels. Asked by AgriFood Today, Bruneau commented on Italy’s behavior: “Italy stands out as a good country that meets the controls. It imports a lot of honey from abroad, but above all less than other European and non-European countries. We know that the authorities are doing some work in collaboration with the European Commission to develop technologies that can detect different types of fraud”. So bootstrapping is supported, at least from an analysis standpoint.

Traceability and transparency

As Stanislas Jas, a 150-hives beekeeper in Southern Finland who provides pollination services to other farms, points out, honest producers, other than consumers, are the first to pay for the consequences of fraud. According to him, there are three main issues that need to be addressed at the European level. Above all, empowering consumers who are always looking for a cheaper product by sacrificing quality, together with clarity on the origin of the product. In this context, Jas wants to amend the directive on honey, which needs to be updated, while providing an important source of legal protection. “Secondly, we want each Member State to be obliged to indicate the origin of the mixture from which the honey is made,” said the Finnish producer. Finally, there will be a need to “bring more transparency in the supply chain” for both consumers and public authorities. “Traceability must go hand in hand with fraud detection, which needs to be improved, and Europe has the capacity to do that,” said Jas, calling for greater control at European borders and their systematic implementation with new technologies available. . The global nature of scams does not allow us to be distracted or let our guard down.

Source: Today IT