Testing at a leading international scientific lab that specialises in honey fraud detection last month found that almost half the honey samples selected from supermarket shelves were “adulterated”. This means they have been mixed with something other than nectar from bees.
Experts report that adulterated honey generally included rice syrup and beet syrup, as well as other unidentified substances, which aren’t detected by official honey tests.
International fraudsters, often criminal gangs in China, produce the fake honey and sell it to unsuspecting suppliers at a higher price, making a fortune along the way.
The adulterated samples were all products that blend local and imported honey.
Phil McCabe, the president of the International Federation of Beekeepers’ Association, said adulterated honey isn’t honey at all. “Everything about it seems to be honey when in fact it’s just sugar syrup or something else … Consumers don’t realise what they are buying and eating isn’t honey,” he said.
And he’s right.
When we buy food, we take it on faith that the product matches the label. These revelations about adulterated honey products have left many questioning this trust.
Counterfeiting by low-cost producers in third world markets has been a challenge to many major corporations and fashion houses for decades. However, fashion goods are not the only targets for brand cheats.
Over recent years, food fraud has become increasingly commonplace. Because it is designed to be undetected, it is difficult to know the true reach of food fraud, but there is no doubt it is a lucrative practice.
Food fraud is essentially the sale of an inferior product represented as a more valuable one. This could be through substitution, dilution, tampering, or misrepresentation of food, ingredients or packaging.
Australia enjoys positive perceptions in rapidly growing Asian markets as a clean and green producer of wholesome, natural and trustworthy food products.
The upside of this means there are opportunities in export markets for Australian farmers and food producers to take advantage of strong demand for our products and, in many cases, to achieve a significant price premium. The downside is that unscrupulous traders want to cash in on these opportunities by muscling in with copies of many of our well-known brands.
High-value and high-demand foods are particularly at risk of counterfeiting. Brands known for quality may be targeted with fake labelling and branding. Certain labels like ‘organic’ and ‘free-range’ that attract a premium price are also popular targets. However, origins can be difficult to trace, resulting in fraudulent use of these labels.
We’re all familiar with food fraud that takes the form of passing off one product as something more up-market. For years, Nile perch has been passed off as Australian barramundi; generic green leaves have been marketed as oregano; and prawns from Thailand and Vietnam have been sold as local product. This can also include deliberate fake country of origin information – for example, labelling snow peas from Nigeria as locally grown.
This is wrong on so many counts.
Calling out cheats is not just about protecting reputations and profits. As importantly, it is about maintaining brand integrity, and ensuring food health and safety.
The ramifications if someone got sick or died from a counterfeit product would be huge. No doubt those affected would sue; and regulators would come down on the legitimate producer like a ton of bricks. Even if they could prove the offending products were fakes, bad publicity could destroy them.
Australian consumers have a right to be able to tell at a glance the origin of their food and where it has been processed. And we need to be able to rely on transparent and simple labelling to help us make informed choices.
Imitation may well be said to be the sincerest form of flattery.
However, when it comes to our fabulous Aussie food products, it is simply theft. We need to take every possible measure to ensure that our brands, and our producers, are strongly protected from opportunists trying to cash in on their hard work and investment.
You can’t buy a car in Australia that doesn’t meet Australian safety standards; you can’t buy a microwave oven in Australia that doesn’t meet Australian safety standards; you can’t buy children’s clothing that doesn’t meet Australian safety standards. Why then can we buy food that doesn’t meet Australian safety standards?
We should be making it clear to our governments that we expect them to insist on the highest possible health and safety standards for all food, regardless of where it comes from.