“Honey Laundering” threat to supplies – Jun brands respond

The UK newspaper The Financial Times reported on April 22 about European Union (EU) measures to combat an influx of syrup-laced honey from China and other exporters flooding the bloc’s €2.3bn honey market and driving down prices. One EU official calls this form of fraud “honey laundering.” We asked Jun producers (a variation of kombucha made with honey and green tea) to respond.

Adulterated honey

The FT reports that almost half of the honey surveyed by the commission broke EU rules, with ingredients such as sugar syrups, coloring, and water, noting the threat this poses to European beekeepers:

As imported honey is sold at a lower price than the European product, beekeepers across the continent said honey fraud risked hurting small businesses, misleading consumers and, by discouraging would-be apiarists, posing a risk to bees’ environmental role.

Four in five jars sold in supermarkets are blends, often including honey from both within and outside the bloc. A proposal by Slovenia has called for EU honey labels to indicate each country of origin and their respective share in blends, rather than the current approach of simply stating that blends contain a mix of EU and non-EU honey.

The scale of the potential problem of adulterated honey is vast, since Europe produces 218,000 tonnes but imports 175,000 tonnes annually, with the majority coming from just eight destinations, including China, Ukraine, Turkey, and several Latin American countries.

As beekeepers are well aware, bees play a crucial role in the environment:

Pollinators including honey bees contribute €22bn each year to the European agriculture industry and pollinate 80 per cent of crops and wild plants in the continent, according to EU figures. They face a decline caused by pesticides, pollution and other factors, which the EU has said it wants to reverse by 2030.

Jun brands respond

Leading European and US Jun producers are well-aware of the need to use unadulterated products.

Shanti Volpe, owner of Weaverville, North Carolina-based Shanti Elixirs, is clear on the importance of sourcing pure honey:

I am a beekeeper myself and it is the bees that inspired me to start my company Shanti Elixirs. I am also a holistic health care practitioner, nurse, and lactation consultant. Wanting to support the health of my family, my community and the environment all play a major role in why I am in the Jun brewing business. After six months of being in business I realized that I had to reach out to my beekeeping friends for help supporting our honey needs. Running an apiary, a business, continuing my work as a nurse and being a mother to three did not allow me to also continue with my own apiary. However, as we grow our intention is to have a non-profit educational honey bee apiary where folks can learn all about the bees and honey and how to help the bees survive.

We now exclusively get our honey from a local beekeeper, Greg Rogers. He has 400 hives spread across 11 locations right here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We do not lab test his honey because he is a beekeeping friend and I know how to tell the difference between real and fake honey. But honey can be lab tested. It is important for folks to know how to tell the difference between real honey and fake honey because some honey is blended with sugar and other ingredients. Real honey has a very low moisture content and pH. Also Fake honey dissolves very quickly in water without having to warm it up. We have to use warm tea in order for our honey to dissolve. We always make sure that we add our honey to tea that is under 115 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain the beneficial properties of the raw honey. Another easy way for the novice to know if it is real honey or fake is to check to see if the honey sticks to your finger and how slowly it spreads on toast!

Jun Magnolia: The Champagne of Kombucha is based in New Orleans, LA. Founder Lawless Turner comments:

We source the honey used in our recipe directly from farmers located in Southern Mississippi. We pride ourselves on the quality of taste and flavor in each champagne bottle Jun Magnolia. We discovered the honey from southern Mississippi is the best because the bees are raised in an area of the United States with very little pollution, open clean air, and surrounded by flowers and trees. It’s very rural in Southern Mississippi with very little pollution from industry like other regions of the United States. We find this makes a big difference in taste and flavor. The honey tastes a bit like bark and flowers. We love supporting local farmers in Southern Mississippi and we think of it as an impact to our region.

Andrew Mills, of Buckingham, UK-based Nunc Living Jun Kombucha, buys from local beekeepers:

The issue of fake honey has been known for years and its great to see the issue continuing to be highlighted, though it is disappointing to note we’re still talking and not doing. However, fake honey is a symptom of a much bigger problem that needs to be addressed, which continues to be ignored.

We at Nunc, as producers of Jun as well as caring for bees ourselves, are constantly striving to be as sustainable as possible. When we started Nunc we did so using honey from the bees we care for, and we now source raw honey from other bee keepers within five miles of our brewery. The source of our honey is, and always has been, important to us. It would be considerably cheaper for us to purchase honey from other countries, but that isn’t sustainable nor is it honest – for example, some companies buy their honey from Africa, yet at the same time talk about being sustainable. By buying local we have much greater visibility of how our honey is sourced, how the bees are cared for, and we actually meet the bee keepers and inspect their operations, if we were buying from another country it is not possible to have this level of visibility.

However, it is important to understand fake honey is a symptom of a much bigger problem – and there are many similar examples (trout from China is legally sold as salmon in the UK). The EU approach won’t stem the flow of fake honey, and dealing with honey on its own is a case of trying to apply a bandaid to a cut artery.

The majority of consumers want ever cheaper food and drink, particularly in the current economic climate. Supermarkets, as businesses, want to satisfy this demand but not at the expense of their profits (in most cases they want to increase their profits). Consequently, there is pressure on producers to cut their costs and this is driving the growth in using fake goods. For example, the increased use of natural flavorings – these flavorings are 90% chemicals (artificial flavorings are 100% chemicals), without any of the goodness of the original product, however drinks using these flavorings can legally proclaim to use only natural ingredients!

The producers of fake goods are simply filling a demand, which shows no signs of abating. We firmly believe the only way for real change to happen is for consumers to be fully informed on what they’re consuming. Natural flavorings should not be called natural, at best they’re “semi-artificial”. If any sample of honey tested contains fake honey then every jar of honey from that supplier is labelled fake honey. To quote a well worn expression, let’s start calling a spade a spade.

Consumers need to know exactly what they’re consuming and its origins. We can’t expect consumers to make an informed choice without transparency and honesty, and we as producers need to play our part in this.

Another UK producer, newly arrived on the market, is Cridling, Ltd in Knottingley, Yorkshire. Their kombucha jun is brewed from the bees they keep:

We became beekeepers at Cridling in 2019. We now have a thriving apiary producing lots of beautiful honey to make our Cridling honey kombucha drinks with. We are extremely responsible beekeepers and only take the absolute excess honey from the bees to ensure they are happy, healthy and thriving

Owner Claire Tulley notes

I am very aware of the adulterated honey situation and have been closely following the British Beekeepers Assassination (BBKA) campaign against it and for more thorough labeling laws. Unfortunately, the fact is that much of the honey blended in Europe originates from outside of the EU.The UK’s Honey Authenticity Network tested samples from retailers around Britain, and not one sample was complaint. This emphasizes how wide spread the adulteration is. I do think there should be greater controls because ultimately the adulterated Honey tends to be in the lower value brands which affects more vulnerable families on lower incomes, as if they haven’t got it hard enough in the current financial climate.

Holly Scaggs, founder of Wild Tonic, based in Cottonwood, Arizona, sources honey from outside the US, but is confident in the authenticity of the product they use:

Wild Tonic Jun Kombucha is made with honey that is sourced from a single origin in Brazil. We work with a family that has been beekeeping for three generations and passing on the art of organic beekeeping from one generation to the next. Our honey is tested for purity and we can assure our customers that we use only the highest quality organic honey on the market!

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh.

“There there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”

― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

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