Tesco honey ‘bulked out with sugar’

Hi-tech analysis of the supermarket’s set honey raises fears of widespread adulteration that may affect other retailers too. Jonathan Leake, Science Editor , The Sunday Times Nov. 24 2019.

There have long been suspicions that honey suffers widespread adulteration. This is partly because it is so expensive compared with sugar, and also because the UK
imports 90% of the 24,000 tons of honey sold annually.

Much comes from China via multiple intermediaries who can boost profits by adding syrups. Also, it is easy to turn sugars into syrup and add the flavours and colours to pass it off as honey.

Such fakes used to be undetectable, but analysts have started using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), which is better at distinguishing between different types of sugars and their origins. This was the technique used on the Tesco honey.

Elliott, professor of food safety at Queen’s University, Belfast, said honey adulteration had become highly sophisticated. “Honey is one of the most adulterated types of food. NMR is a reliable technique and there is a big push to introduce it as a standard testing procedure globally. Tesco had big problems over horsemeat and if there are doubts over honey it should act fast and take it off the shelves.”

Britain’s honey wholesalers and retailers disagree with the deployment of NMR, claiming it is not accurate enough.

Tesco said: “Tesco brand honey is 100% pure, natural and can be directly traced back to the beekeeper. We carry out regular tests to ensure our honey is fully compliant with all legal requirements.” It said Tesco did not use NMR because “it is not proven to take into account the natural variations in honey sourced globally”.

Many UK supermarkets are supplied by Rowse Honey, owned by CapVest, a private equity firm based in Pall Mall, central London. Rowse refused to confirm if it supplied Tesco and said NMR was unreliable but traditional analyses showed its products were pure honey.

Elliott said: “Foodstuffs make 3%-5% profit so if you adulterate just 20% you have quadrupled your profit margin and can make massive amounts of money.”