Fraudulent honey-makers who try to hit the Canadian marketplace with adulterated honey products are in for big surprise.
A new cutting-edge laboratory to detect fake honey — the first in Canada — opened Thursday by the Worker Bee Honey Company of Chilliwack.
“Our new lab is a response to honey adulteration, a worldwide problem which is growing larger,” said Peter Awram of the Worker Bee Honey.
To make the product cheaper to produce, fraudsters add rice syrup or corn syrup to the honey.
“Adulteration is a threat to the reputation of Canadian honey and to Canadian beekeepers,” Awram noted.
The lab will be able to detect adulterated honey using a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) machine.
NMR technology analyzes the entire spectrum of a honey sample, generating an organic chemical “fingerprint” which can be tracked on a database that Awram is building with samples from every honey-producer in the province.
B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said the lab will make B.C. a “very sought-after region” for sourcing honey, especially for those who “believe in authenticity,” as well as truth in labelling.
The ag minister said she is personally passionate about bees, and said one of the nicknames from the legislature she is most proud of is “The Bee Lady.”
“Fraud with the honey market is huge,” Minister Popham told the small crowd, “and I am a huge believer in truth in labelling.”
It’s the public trust that’s at stake. So if beekeepers and honey producers want to use the ‘Buy B.C.’ logo in future, the lab testing could serve as verification that the product is in fact B.C. honey, she said.
“This is going to resonate with consumers,” Popham said.
Awram said he started down “this strange path” to honey testing after learning that only about 40 per cent of what is sold as honey is something else.
“It’s the only one in Canada,” Awram said about the NMR machine, and only one of two in North America.
He hopes it will act as a deterrent to prevent honey fraud in B.C.
The same machine, which is similar to an MRI machine, can be seen in the hot Netflix documentary series Rotten, which unpacks the devastating effects of the contaminated honey flooding the marketplace. There are maybe a dozen such labs testing honey and other foodstuffs worldwide.
The problem with keeping the honey products pure and unadulterated is that prior to the emergence of NMR technology, the fraudsters managed to find ways of circumventing the tests with increasingly sophisticated methods of altering the syrups to pass as authentic honey.
The new Chilliwack lab will be able to detect the contaminants, source the floral and geographic origins of the honey, and will also flag the absence of normal honey components in fraudulent products.
Worker Bee is a family-run farm business by Jerry, Peter, and Pia Awram, with about 6,000 bee hives, which they provide pollination services and bulk honey. The Worker Bee Honey Co. purchased the NMR machine last year, and a grant of $175,000 from the Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C. will allow them to collect honey samples, test the honey, and create a data base of all the samples.