Thursday, 28 February 2013

From horsemeat to honey: be careful what you're buying

I have received an email from the British Beekeepers Association which yet again stirs the pot about the issue of what's in our food. This one reads more like a scene from a Star Wars movie complete with dastardly crooks, lasers and battles between good and bad. Apparently, fake honey is making its way into markets in North America and Europe.

Given the abyssmal honey crop last year, perhaps fake honey is all there is to buy. Nevertheless, like the horsemeat in ready-made foods scandal, we are again presented with a problem of not knowing what is in our food. Fake honey apparently does contain real honey, just not very much of it. It is bulked up with sugar, malt sweeteners, corn or rice syrup, jaggery (a type of unrefined sugar) and other additives in a process called honey laundering. It is then passed off as real honey.

But coming to the rescue is science in the form of space age lasers designed for missions to Mars. The laser beams in question can be fired at tiny amounts of honey and the resulting burn-off can be analysed. This can be used to work out the contents of fake honey and even the origin of real honey.

The question is, why would criminals bother? The answer is that food fraud is profitable. As with the horsemeat scandal, cheaper materials can be passed off as something of a much higher value. And let's face it, honey is not cheap. Indeed, after last year's crop failure, it is rather more expensive than usual.

Long supply chains stretching half way around the planet are an ideal target for food fraudsters. We have seen that with the horsemeat scandal. The solution, and sorry to keep banging on about this, is buy as locally as possible from sources you can trust.

If you want to read the full article on the Arstechnia site go to:

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