Tesco stung by adulterated honey claims

Supermarket giant Tesco has withdrawn batches of its own-brand honey from sale in the UK after tests suggested it was adulterated with sugar syrup.

The Tesco Clear Honey 454g product is being temporarily removed from sale while the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is reportedly looking into the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) testing results, which were commissioned by Trading Standards within Richmond Council in London.

The FSA’s National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) is also investigating the claims – first reported in the Sunday Times – that the honey may have been bulked up with sugar.

“The findings of the analysis is that there is likely to be adulteration with non-natural products,” said the paper, citing a Richmond Council spokeswoman. “This could indicate a more widespread issue with adulteration of honey.”

A European Commission report published in 2017 estimated that 14 per cent of honey samples tested were adulterated with added sugars such as high fructose syrups. The UK imports 90 per cent of the 24,000 tons of honey sold annually, says the Sunday Times.

Honey is a perennial target for food fraudsters, either through non-compliance with an origin name resulting from mixing of honeys from several varieties, or as is suspected in this case the addition of an adulterating substance.

The US Pharmacopeia’s Food Fraud Database lists honey as the third-favourite food target for adulteration, behind milk and olive oil. Meanwhile, there have been widespread reports questioning the authenticity of some products labelled as New Zealand manuka honey.

The FSA is being cautious on the findings for the time being, noting that “honey is a natural but complex product and there are a number of different tests which may be used to determine authenticity.”

Tesco meanwhile says it has removed the product as a precaution but insists it carries out regular tests to ensure its honey is “100 per cent pure, natural and can be directly traced back to the beekeeper.”

Prof Chris Elliott, who authored a report on UK food safety in the wake of the 2013 horsemeat scandal, told the BBC that Tesco’s assertions were “bold”, but welcomed their decision to withdraw the product from sale.

“If they are correct then the testing method is wrong. If it proves to be adulterated then Tesco doesn't have the control over their supply chain they claim,” he pointed out.

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