What could be more pure and natural than honey, nature's golden sweetener? Plenty, according to a recent investigation by Food Safety News, which has found that about one-third of the "honey" Americans are consuming isn't honey but a heavily doctored sweetener that contains artificial sugary concoctions and even dangerous ingredients. Because honey is added to countless foods — like granola, breakfast cereals, and cookies — "honey laundering" has become a multimillion-dollar international crime story. Here, a brief guide to this scandal:
What's being added to honey?
A lot of sugary compounds, according to researchers. Much of the honey Americans buy is imported from Asia, and it's often nothing but "a mix of sugar water, malt sweeteners, corn or rice syrup, jaggery [a type of unrefined sugar], barley malt sweetener, or other additives with a bit of actual honey," says Andrew Schneider in Food Safety News.
In what way is imported honey dangerous?
Heavy metals like lead, which causes brain damage and other health problems, have been found in honey that's stored in big containers made of lead and lead alloys. And experts are alarmed that beekeepers in China are using "an antibiotic that the FDA has banned in food and that has been linked to DNA damage in children," says Tom Laskawy at Grist.
Is anyone tackling this problem?
The European Union has banned all honey imports from India, where much of the world's honey laundering takes place. But in the United States, where domestic honey producers supply only about half of the U.S. demand for the sweet stuff, the FDA has taken a "lackadaisical" approach to honey imports. Fifteen people in Seattle and Chicago were recently busted for their role in honey laundering, but the practice continues.