Chinese counterfeit honey, fake news


News resurfaces these days of a hypothetical invasion of counterfeit Chinese honey on the Italian market. A fake news story that deserves further investigation.

Honey, European rules and Italian rules

The so-called honey directive

regulates the production and marketing of bee nectar in the EU. (1) Providing for appropriate purity requirements, quality criteria, information duties.

Italy’s implementation of the European directive has been even more stringent. To the point of requiring the specific indication on the label of all the countries of harvest of the honeys-instead of the generic wording ‘EU countries‘ or ‘non-EU‘-even in the case of blends. (2)

Honey, it is worth remembering, is a food product of animal origin. And it is therefore subject to a system of additional and specific rules, compared to the generality of foods. (3) A system based on verification of the suitability of food safety protection systems adopted in third countries and analysis on incoming food products. (4)

Honey, public and private controls

Any product of animal origin arriving from non-EU countries is subject to strict controls at the borders (Ministry of Health, UVAC and BIP offices) and on the ground (Hygiene and Veterinary Services at ASLs, NAS and other law enforcement agencies).

Food business operators.

, in turn, have specific responsibilities

, on the subject of self-control, imposed by the mandatory rules. To which are added the voluntary standards provided in the certification schemes, which are de facto mandatory for all companies supplying products under the large-scale retail trade (GDO) brand. (5)

The effectiveness of public and private controls in Italy finds confirmation in the EU early warning system. Italy has always ranked first in the number of notifications in the RASFF (‘Rapid Alert System on Food and Feed‘) yet the only case of honey adulteration with alien sugars in the past 10 years was in 2010 (on product coming from Spain, of Chinese origin). (6)

Honey, methods of analysis

The methods of analysis used to verify the authenticity of honey follow two complementary approaches:

nontargeted (untargeted) approach, such as the 13C isotope adulteration test and other screening techniques (spectrometry, MRI),

selective(targeted) approach, which relies on about 2,000 specific markers designed to identify the nature or production process of ‘alien sugars’ (SMR, for example, is a specific marker for rice syrup). (7)

International experts

and trade associations are working together with the JRC (

Joint Research Center

) of the European Commission, to define an effective and shared strategy for analysis and monitoring.



– with its not a few shortcomings (8) – allows large users to make up for the shortcomings of European industrial honey.

Italian production is indeed subject to cyclical as well as significant declines, due to weather events and bee diseases. And it is therefore in deficit with respect to the demand for a commodity-which is precisely industrial honey-for confectionery and dairy production (for addition to yogurt).

Honey in a jar, conversely, may be the subject of informed purchasing choices. And our consumAtors have well understood the value of Italian honey.. Which is good for itself and for our economy.

But with the

fake news

and the proxy alarms it needs to be done away with. And stop painting ‘China’ as the country of counterfeits. Neglecting that it is from there, the planet’s first economy, that our smartphones and the technologies that connect them come from. Just to mention a couple of examples.

If, on the other hand, the quaquaraquas have even a concrete indication of fraud carried out in Italy, they should file a complaint with the relevant authorities.

Dario Dongo


(1) See dir. 2001/110/EC.

(2) Cf. d.lgs. 179/04

(3) Food of animal origin is subject to additional hygiene and safety requirements (reg. EC 853/04, so-called Hygiene 2). As well as to specific controls by supervisory authorities (reg. EC 854/04, so-called Hygiene 3), in the official public control system (now subject to EU Reg. 2017/625). In addition to testing for harmful residues of veterinary drugs, pesticides and environmental contaminants (dir. 96/23/EC)

(4) See reg. EC 136/04

(5) For further discussion, see our free eBook ‘
Food safety, mandatory rules and voluntary standards

(6) Other Italian notifications related to honey, in 10 years of RASFF records, mainly relate to residues of unauthorized veterinary drugs. Individual cases: 2016 (Macedonia), 2015 (honey blend from Hungary and Ukraine), 2011 (two alerts, on product from Bulgaria and Italy), 2010 (Uruguay, as well as insect contamination in Mexico and unauthorized honey farmer in Italy), 2008 (Hungary and Egypt)

(7) A brief examination of adulteration tests on honey in the presentation by Dr. Caroline Indorf of Intertek at the workshop ‘Fraud in honey’, in Bologna on 19.10.15, on

(8) The European agricultural confederations, after all, have supinely accepted the free trade treaties brought forward by the Juncker Commission. Completely neglecting the issues of the



and environmental

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.