Petition Require honey labels to reflect all countries of origin of the honey.
Currently the country of origin on labels can be replaced, if the honey originates from multiple countries, with ‘blend of EU/non-EU/EU and non-EU honeys’. We believe this is insufficient to allow consumers to make an informed choice. All countries where the honey originated should be listed.
To meet demand, around 90% of the honey we eat in the UK is imported. There is legitimate concern among UK beekeepers and honey producers about honey imports from countries where honey may be adulterated on an industrial scale. This can significantly impact the perceived value of honey in the consumer’s eye and result in unfair economic competition against UK producers. Labelling with full country of origin would enable consumers to choose honey from sources where adulteration is less likely.
This response was given on 31 January 2023
The Government takes food fraud seriously and is working to ensure honey meets our high standards. Country of origin labelling is not a suitable means for determining if a food is subject to fraud.
The Government recognises the importance of high standards for all foods, including honey. All honey on sale in England, regardless of where it comes from, must comply with the Honey (England) Regulations 2015, with equivalent legislation applying across Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This legislation sets out detailed specifications of its composition, labelling, and quality criteria.
The UK has a thriving and diverse honey market which provides consumers with access to a variety of products, including domestically produced, imported, single origin and blended honey. Demand for honey has grown steadily and consumers are able to enjoy many different types of honeys, to suit different requirements at a wide range of price points.
The general requirement in regulation 17 of the Honey (England) Regulations 2015 is that honey cannot be sold in England unless the country of origin where the honey has been harvested is indicated on the label. However, for reasons of practicality special provisions apply to ‘blended’ honeys comprising honeys from more than one country where honey producers can opt for an alternative expression of origin indicating that a honey is a blend from more than one country. We allow blended honeys the option not to list each of the countries from where the honey is sourced to make the blend for reasons of practicality and cost. The mix of different honeys in blended honeys may change frequently throughout the year, depending on availability, price, and seasonality of the various types of honey and the specific countries from where the honey is sourced could therefore change. Requiring producers to constantly update their labels to keep pace with these changes would be highly burdensome, increasing the cost of production and potentially the price to consumers. Consumers consider many factors when purchasing honey including taste, culinary requirement, and cost in addition to origin.
The optional provisions that apply to the labelling of ‘blended’ honey by no means allow for, enable, or encourage food fraud. The provision of origin labelling, whether denoting specific countries, or denoting a blend from multiple countries, is to provide the consumer with information on the provenance of the product. It is not a suitable means for providing consumers information to determine whether a food has been adulterated. Enforcement authorities take actions to determine the authenticity of a food on a case-by-case basis using objective evidence. The provenance of that food is not relevant in determining its authenticity.
Regardless of its origin, honey fraud is taken very seriously, and we work closely with enforcement authorities Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) National Food Crime Unit, Food Standards Scotland’s (FSS) Food Crime and Incidence Unit, industry, and others on investigating any fraud issues raised, to ensure honey sold in the UK is not subject to adulteration, meets our high standards and maintains a level playing field between honey producers.
The Government disputes assertions that honey imports to the UK are being adulterated on an industrial scale. Allegations in the media that a small number of specific blended honeys sold in the UK were fraudulent have been fully investigated by the relevant Local Authorities and concluded that there was insufficient evidence to indicate fraud or non-compliance. We are confident the honey regulations and enforcement of those regulations are fit for purpose but acknowledge honey is a complex natural product and analysis to determine if honey has been adulterated can often be challenging. That is why Defra has a programme of research dedicated to honey authenticity where it is actively working with the FSA, FSS, and Government Chemist to provide further clarity to those carrying out monitoring and enforcement checks of honey, to protect consumers and legitimate businesses. This programme focuses on dissemination and knowledge transfer, supporting work on analytical testing methods, ensuring method fitness for purpose and standardising approaches.
The Government keeps all its laws under review and the regulations on honey are due to be reviewed as part of the commitment to carry out a second post implementation review of the Regulations by 2025. Due consideration will be given to the points made as part of this petition and in the ministerial correspondences we have received. Due consideration will also be given to the decisions taken on the labelling of honey by our international partners.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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