Legal Recourse for Self-Regulation in the Honey Industry

This is the third of four posts by students in the UCLA Law Food Law and Policy Clinic on honey adulteration, honey litigation, and potential policy solutions to the problem of honey fraud.

By Terra Duchene, Aris Prince, Victoria Russell, Candace Yamanishi*

The American honey industry has been aware of the honey fraud problem for a long time. This post outlines fraudulent conduct in the honey certification space and describes a new California lawsuit that tackles honey adulteration.

 In 2010, four North American honey packers and importers set up a certification program called True Source to guarantee the origin, safety, and purity of honey. Since the program’s creation, True Source participation has flourished. True Source representatives told the UCLA Food Law & Policy Clinic (“the Clinic”) that as of January 2021, 40% of honey sold in the USA and Canada is True Source Certified, and there are 820 participating companies: 22 packers, 23 importers, 95 exporters, and 680 beekeepers.

The True Source concept is simple. In theory, honey certified by the organization is regularly tested by third party laboratories for authenticity and is designed to allow honey to be tracked from the consumer, back through the supply chain, to the country of origin and the beekeeper who harvested the honey from the beehive. (True Source Standard; Complaint). The True Source participants are supposedly required to comply with specific standards (the “True Source Certified Standard”) to ensure the traceability and authenticity of honey at each stage in the supply chain.

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What is Adulteration?

This is the second of four posts by students in the UCLA Law Food Law and Policy Clinic on honey adulteration, honey litigation, and potential policy solutions to the problem of honey fraud.

By Terra Duchene, Aris Prince, Victoria Russell, Candace Yamanishi*

Honey is made when the nectar and sweet deposits from flowering plants are gathered, stored, and dehydrated in honeycomb by honeybees. By definition, honey is a pure, single ingredient natural substance free of other substances or sweeteners. Honey adulteration occurs when real honey is added to or altered in such a way that it modifies its natural composition and integrity.

Adulteration occurs in a variety of forms, the most common being dilution with cheap fillers, sugary syrups, or other additives. This dilution increases the sugar content as well as changes the color and texture of the honey. Some honey producers extract the honey from the honeycomb prematurely[R(1] , or even substitute the nectar usually used to feed honeybees with sugar water to increase honey production and enhance their honey’s sweetness. Other common forms of adulteration include super heating and ultrafiltration or “resin stripping,” which remove pollen and naturally occurring enzymes to “improve” taste and smell and prevent the crystallization that retailers and consumers often find unattractive. Pollen removal is also an effective way to obfuscate efforts to track honey by adding local pollen after removing the foreign source pollen so that adulterators can circumvent labeling laws. Honey blending is another non-obvious form of adulteration where different honeys are blended in varying amounts and often misrepresented as a single type of honey. According to Amina Harris, Director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the UC Davis Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, a honey that has been labeled “Orange Blossom Honey” may be composed of only 28% orange blossom so long as that is the highest percentage present. The other 73% can be composed of any random mixture of various types of honey.

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Honey Adulteration and the Precarity of the U.S. Beekeeper

This is the first of four posts by students in the UCLA Law Food Law and Policy Clinic on honey adulteration, honey litigation, and potential policy solutions to the problem of honey fraud.

By Terra Duchene, Aris Prince, Victoria Russell, Candace Yamanishi*

Honey litigation is in the news again. Like previous honey lawsuits such as the Honeygate scandal—in which honey fraudsters were arrested for selling fraudulent honey that passed through U.S. Customs with fraudulent country of origin documents—the honey lawsuit filed March 29, 2021, in United States District Court, Eastern District of California, is targeted at actors responsible for flooding the U.S. market with cheap adulterated honey. Unlike previous lawsuits, this lawsuit focuses on a different set of victims: U.S. beekeepers who have been overwhelmingly harmed by adulterated honey flooding into the North American market.

Numerous commercial beekeepers in the U.S. are sitting on millions of pounds of real honey that they cannot sell. Why? Because the market is flooded with cheap, adulterated honey from out of the country, and producers of real honey in the U.S. are forced to sell at a loss. The Food Law and Policy Clinic at UCLA, an experiential course that partners law students with local and regional non-profit organizations and community groups to advocate for food movements, was paired with lifelong American beekeeper Chris Hiatt. Hiatt is fighting for the survival of his second-generation family business, Hiatt Honey, which has been owned by five Hiatt brothers for over five decades. Hiatt advocates to keep commercial beekeepers in business by preventing the continued proliferation of adulterated honey and honey fraud in the U.S.

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