SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — Two new reports say much of the honey sold in U.S. stores is coming from Asian countries, some of it illegally. Even worse, according to one report, some of the foreign honey has been found to contain contaminants such as heavy metals and antibiotics.

Food Safety News, a group backed by a law firm that represents people with food-borne illnesses, said 75 percent of store-bought honey it tested did not fit the legal definition of “honey.”

The group claimed some imported honeys are put through an “ultra-filtration” process that removes the pollen in the honey, consequently making it impossible to trace where the sweet stuff comes from. According to Food Safety News, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t consider any products put through ultra-filtration with no presence of pollen honey.

Nutritionist Jo Ann Hattner said the new reports are the buzz of the honey world. She said the easiest thing for consumers to do if they want to make sure where their honey is from is to buy American. Hattner said unlike some importers, the United States has standards and testing on its home-grown honey.

“A product that says ‘U.S.A’ on it does have standards for filtration, and standards for the honey,” she said.

UC Davis agriculture expert Eric Mussen had a different piece of advice. He said consumers really don’t have much to worry about when it comes to foreign honey being sold in the U.S.

According to Mussen, Americans consume 300 million tons of honey a year, making enough of it on U.S. soil to only supply half that amount. So while much of our honey is coming from overseas, he believes the real issue is with tariffs and not so much the filtration process some honeys may go through.

Much of the foreign honeys haven’t been taxed and that hurts the U.S. economy and honey producers who cannot compete.

But when it comes down to it, Hattner said whether you prefer a cloudy, raw bottle of unfiltered honey or not, it’s still honey.

“Honey is honey, whether it’s filtered or not filtered,” she said.

If you want to figure out where your jar of honey is from, Hattner said you can call the number listed on the bottle. The National Honey Board has also set up The Honey Locator, where consumers can find local suppliers.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

  1. National Honey Board says:

    The choices consumers make today about most products, including honey, are extremely personal. In regards to honey, consumers may have varying opinions about their choice of honey type, flavor and origin. To enable a truly personal choice, there are many different kinds of honey available in the U.S. market. Some consumers prefer honey in the comb or liquid honey that is unprocessed or raw, while some prefer honey that is crystallized or cremed. Others will seek out honey that is organically produced and certified. However, the majority of honey sold at retail in the U.S. every year is the clear, golden liquid honey that has been strained or filtered.

    There are a number of filtration processes that remove fine particles, including pollen, from honey – but the end result is still pure honey. Pollen particles may or may not be present in the honey an individual chooses, but the product is still honey.

    Unfortunately, inaccuracies in a recent news story have fueled a considerable amount of confusion about the term “ultrafiltered honey.” Ultrafiltration is a specific process used in the food industry. When applied to honey, ultrafiltration results in a sweetener product that is not honey because of the significant changes it causes in the original honey. It is an expensive process that requires the addition of water to the honey, high pressure filtration at the molecular level, and then removal of the water. While it is known to have been used with honey overseas to create a sweetener product for beverages, ultrafiltration is not generally used in the U.S. Other filtration methods have been used for many years in the U.S. honey industry. These filtration methods are designed to remove fine particles such as bits of wax, bee parts, air bubbles and pollen that hasten crystallization of the honey and affect clarity. Recent articles have also incorrectly stated that the FDA does not consider honey without pollen to be honey – that is simply not true. For more information on honey filtration and USDA grading standards, click here.

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