Rare test to identify actual origins of honey is now done in U.S. and can aid in caching Chinese smugglers

by Andrew Schneider on May 6, 2010

Until recently, anyone needing to confirm that the liquid golden syrup they had bought from overseas brokers was actually honey and not an altered and mislabeled blend from China had to queue up at a couple of very busy analytical labs in Germany.  That included U.S. federal investigators working to identify the origin of the honey to determine whether or not a crime, such as honey laundering, had been committed.

Prof. Vaughn Bryant

Prof. Vaughn Bryant

For the first time, a U.S. lab is able to conduct such tests on the golden nectar.

Texas A&M University announced last week that Vaughn Bryant, a palynologist and an anthropology professor, is now the only person in the U.S. doing melissopalynology – the study of pollen in honey that allows identification of its country of origin.

Performing isotopic studies, Bryant says he has examined more than 100 honey samples for importers, exporters, beekeepers and producers with his DNA-based analysis. Many of the samples he analyzed contained labels from other countries when in fact they originated in China. They were reportedly re-routed to avoid tariffs of up to 500 percent.

Some foreign exporters get around the tariff by mixing honey from different sources, others infuse up to 50 percent high fructose corn syrup into the honey.  It is becoming common now for smugglers to use a process called ultra-filtration which removes the pollen and makes it almost impossible for any laboratory to determine its origin.

“The beekeepers of the U.S. have been pleading with the Food and Drug Administration to enact stricter guidelines about accurate labeling for honey, but that is a long, slow process,’’ Bryant said. “Meanwhile, I’m trying to help out here and there, but it’s almost impossible to keep up.”

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