Honey: China’s New “Threat” to Europe

Chinese honey: three out of four jars are substandard

On May 20, the world celebrated International Bee Day, established by the UN in 2017 to raise public awareness of the importance of these and other pollinators to food security. WWF estimates that “more than a third of global production, equal to more than $160 billion per year, is linked to pollinators, whose conservation is threatened.”

However, this day was also marked by protests. In many European countries, including France, beekeepers mobilized to defend honey “made in Europe.”

In Italy, the organization of Italian farmers Coldiretti sounded the alarm. It said honey imports have increased by 23% since the beginning of the year, of which around 25% comes from outside the EU, “often of poor quality and at low prices.” This leads to lower prices for Italian and European high-quality products. Some European beekeepers have decided to drastically reduce prices, sometimes even selling honey for as little as €4 per kilogram. However, the price was still much higher than some honeys from Asia and China in particular, which sell for as little as €1.50 per kilogram.

In Switzerland, the press called Asian honey “a real threat to European beekeepers”: Chinese honey is very often considered substandard. In France, the investigation came to some very disturbing conclusions. Chinese honey costs a quarter of European honey, but three jars out of four are substandard, or to be precise, have nothing to do with the natural product. China is its main supplier to Europe. The numbers speak for themselves: 74% of Chinese honey does not meet European standards, that is, European legislation that requires honey to be pure, unaltered by other ingredients. In contrast, Chinese honey is often prepared with sugar syrup to increase the volume of the final product without increasing costs. According to the European Commission’s investigation, published in March 2023, “of 320 samples of imported honey, some 46% were seriously suspected of deviating from Union norms, particularly by adding sugar syrup.”

The difference is virtually imperceptible to the consumer. Giving up Chinese products and avoiding “fake honey” is actually not as easy as it may seem. Indeed, it is very common to have different countries of production listed on the label, but without specifying the proportions in the composition, with the labeling actually bordering on legality. Therefore, it is difficult, almost impossible, for a European buyer to understand when he is faced with a fake.

In France, beekeepers affiliated with FNSEA, France’s main agricultural business organization, have called on supermarkets to remove honey from China and other Asian countries from their shelves. The result confounded everyone: the departments set aside for honey in supermarkets were left virtually empty, making it easy to understand the extent of the “fake Asian honey” problem. Since 2020, European imports of honey from China have increased by about 40%.