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Lawsuit Claims Some Store ‘Honey’ Brands Are Deceptive

A series of class action lawsuits has been filed in Florida against major food retailers who allegedly sell honey that may not be “honey” because it does not contain pollen.

Five Florida residents are bringing suits against four different grocery chains – Publix Super Markets, Inc., Target Corporation, Walgreen Co. and Aldi, Inc. – that all reportedly carry ultra-filtered honey under their own house brands. 

Ultra-filtration is a special process by which honey is heated and then forced through tiny filters that don’t let pollen through. This process is different from traditional honey filtration, which uses bigger filters and is designed only to weed out visible contaminants such as bee parts, wax and debris. 

In removing the pollen from honey, ultra-filtration essentially removes its footprint. The resulting product cannot be traced back to its source to determine whether it came from a legitimate supplier or one with a reputation for adulterated products. 

honey-comb-406.jpgWhen Food Safety News investigated ultra-filtration last year, it found that over 3/4 of honey sold in U.S. grocery stores lacks pollen. 

Florida is one of a handful of states that has set a honey standard dictating what qualities a product needs in order to be called honey. Anything labeled as “honey” must contain pollen, says the standard. This rule gives legal clout to those who want to see pollen-free honey labeled as something other than honey. 

The same clout does not exist at the federal level, because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to issue a set of standards for honey, despite demands from both industry and Congress that it do so. 

“Honey that has pollen should be called ‘honey,’ and honey that’s been filtered so that all the pollen has been removed should be called something else,” says attorney J. Andrew Meyer of Morgan & Morgan, who along with Jason Kellogg of Levine Kellogg Lehman Schneider + Grossman filed the class action suits. 

Initial tests commissioned by the firm have shown that the honey brands involved in the suit do not contain pollen, he told Food Safety News.

Meyer says pollen-less honey should be treated like any other fake food in that it can’t be called the real deal. 

“When you see fake cheese slices at the store, they’re called ‘cheese food,’ ” he explains. “Some people don’t mind that. It’s less expensive. But it differentiates itself from cheese, which we know is made with milk.” 

In the same way, he says, truly “raw” or “natural” honey should be differentiated from ultra-filtered honey through labeling. 

In Florida, the law gives the state authority to see that labels on the container accurately reflect what’s inside. 

Honey producers have argued that ultra-filtration is necessary in order to give honey the clear look consumers like and prevent it from crystallizing. 

But Meyer says this justification is not recognized in the state’s honey standard and will likely not hold up in court. 

Meyer hopes the cases brought in Florida will spark similar litigation in states that have honey standards, and legislation regarding honey in those that don’t. 

“What needs to happen is consumer education,” he says. “That’s really the thrust of our lawsuit – that there be truth in labeling and consumers understand what they’re buying.”

Brands in question include Publix’s private labels “Orange Blossom Honey” and “Pure Clover Honey,” Target’s “Market Pantry” and “Archer Farms” brands, Walgreen’s brand honey and its “Nice” honey, and Aldi’s “Berryhill Clover Honey.” 

Meyer and Kellogg estimate that there may be thousands to tens of thousands of consumers who purchased pollen-free honey sold under any of the brand names in question over the past four years. 

 

© Food Safety News
  • http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/04/lawsuit-can-stores-call-honey-with-no-pollen-honey/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=120404 Lynne Markus

    For Sue.

  • Ted

    Oh, the gross injustice! The honey is ultra-filtered, it is rendered TOO PURE!! A product that is purged of particulate contaminants is automatically labeled artificial or fraudulent? Seriously? Why would you not have to demonstrate the presence of foreign substances in the honey in order to deem it adulterated? What is your precedent here? How much pollen and insect parts and fly turds are the minimum to be certain the honey is genuine? Is it more or less than the minimum amount of manure that must be smeared on vegetables in order to label them organic?

  • Amy

    Perhaps the honey should just be labeled as “Ultra-filtered” just as ultra-pasteurized milk is labeled as such. One who does not want all the processing wouldn’t buy it.
    @Ted: Honey with no pollen is useless for someone who uses it to build allergy resistance.

  • John Coryat

    >> Oh, the gross injustice! The honey is ultra-filtered, it is rendered TOO PURE!!
    You haven’t been following honey’s issue with illegal imports, have you?
    The problem with ultra-filtered honey is the country of origin is erased when it is purified. China has been dumping honey into the US market and the ultra-filtration process is the avenue by which they can do this.
    If the pollen remains in the honey, then the country of origin can be proved and that will stop China and other countries from dumping potentially dangerous and contaminated and artificially produced product.
    Setting standards will also provide assurances to families they are getting a pure, US product instead of some tainted Chinese garbage that may or may not ever have seen a bee.

  • Marjorie

    My kids are allergic to pollen. If I knew which brands of honey have been filtered clean I would buy it for them. Why would I feed them honey with crap left in it when they could have clean food? I can’t get too upset if the honey comes from China or from my crazy next door neighbor if it is clean (my hippie neighbor is a mess and I wouldn’t eat his honey if you paid me). Are honey bees in China not real, are they some sort of evil communist robot drone thingys? Clean food is good food and I cannot imagine how you could believe otherwise but I have a real nice bridge to sell you if you do.

  • Wendy P., San Francisco

    Some nutjobs in Florida sued because they suspected some honey was really something else because it had been filtered clean? Did it smell funny because it didn’t have so much trash in it? What do they say the honey really is if it is not honey? Are these people paranoid or what? Maybe they are doing a copycat thing because they saw how the pink slime scammers got a lot of attention for themselves. Are the honey skeptics trying to put Publix out of business or something? Surely they aren’t trying to bankrupt China. That would be a bad idea but the sun is pretty intense in Florida and it can mess you up if you’re not careful. Is this story an April fools hoax, seriously?

  • http://www.honeypacifica.com Honey Pacifica

    Well the FDA will continue to drag their feet on this issue so I completely agree that consumer education is key. If you’re looking for honey with pollen from the US, look for Raw Honey. Raw honey is unheated and unfiltered, which keeps the healthy enzymes and pollen intact. Typically once people try raw honey, they never go back to Ultra-filtered honeys.

    • eskander alsabhi

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  • http://www.foodsafetyanalysis.com M. “Mike” Mychajlonka, Ph. D.

    Marjorie & Ted: Please re-read John Coryat’s post. Previous articles on Food Safety News and elsewhere have indicated that one very good reason for why an exporter may want to hide a batch of honey’s real country of origin is to avoid the blame for heavy metal contamination. Before you decide to buy filtered honey to spare kids from pollen allergies, consider testing the honey for arsenic and lead contamination. The most affordable way to get this done is to go to http://www.foodsafetyanalysis.com/consumer and follow the instructions.
    BTW – You don’t have to search very hard for filtered honey. Last I heard, three quarters of the honey on this country’s grocery store shelves has been filtered.

  • Susan

    Honey that is ‘raw’ actually desensitizes many pollen allergies. This is a FACT, not fiction. If you take a small amount of about one TBSP (it’s great in coffee!) each day it will lessen your symptoms. I know this is really true because my youngest was on prescription Claritin and was able to stop taking it after his honey ‘therapy’.

  • John

    Ted & Marjorie: Like others said, it is the fine particulates that help honey to help people with allergies. Also, the “honey” from china is not simply ultra-filtered honey. They also add high fructose corn syrup and other chemicals to it, along with artificial flavoring, to make it appear like and taste like honey. It is NOT honey, and there is nothing “clean” about it.

  • Milky Reasoning

    There is an eerie similarity between the magic medicinal claims of honey freaks and those of raw milkies. Both are full of blarney right up their earholes. Neither has earned our respect.

    • Geniene

      Make fun if you wish, but it’s more than just a claim for me. Raw honey has helped to alleviate my hayfever symptoms immensely (and my children’s) after suffering severely every spring for the last 24 years. *For anyone else suffering from allergies… We just took approximately 1 tsp full mixed with cinnamon just prior to eating and several other times throughout the day. Amazing!!! It also eliminate indigestion for me from beans or cabbage if I do a spoonful before and after my meal.

  • http://www.honey.com bboynton

    For accurate information about honey filtration and ultrafiltration, please go to the National Honey Board’s website at http://www.honey.com. The National Honey Board is a federal research and promotion board under USDA oversight.

  • http://www.honey.com Bruce Boynton

    For accurate information about honey filtration and ultrafiltration, please go to the National Honey Board’s website at http://www.honey.com. The National Honey Board is a federal research and promotion board under USDA oversight.

  • Greg

    What most people don’t realize is the Food Safety News is a joke. They are funded by lawyers who make a living off suing food companies. Their report on honey last year was misleading. They mention Sue Bee Honey as one of the samples that doesn’t contain pollen. If they did any research, they would find that this is because it uses micro filters to strain out bee parts, impurities and yes, some of the pollen. This is not ultra-filtration – which is used by some companies to hide the fact that their honey comes from China. This is just another example of lawyers praying on feeble-minded consumers.

  • http://entomology/ucdavis.edu/faculty/mussen.cfm Eric Mussen

    The biggest problem is the media’s use of the term “ultra-filtered” as it pertains to honey. Truly ultra-filtered honey has components as small as protein molecules removed from it, not just grossly large particles like pollen grains. If you wish to see a description of such super-refined honey, as used for medical studies and some other uses that can afford it, please visit this website: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0260877403000177. This leads to a Journal of Food Engineering article by R.S. Barhate, et al., titled: Processing of honey using polymeric microfiltration and ultrafiltration membranes. This is way too expensive a process to justify its use for honey sold for eating. Also, if you start with practically any definition of honey, it will state that honey originates as nectar that is processed, condensed and stored in the combs. Nowhere in those descriptions will it be found that pollen is an essential or normal raw ingredient in the production of honey.

  • J. P. Tanner

    Whoever thought up this ridiculous foolishness about how honey is transformed into something else if it is filtered free of trash, well they have far too much idle time on their hands. They should consider taking up a calming hobby like crossword puzzles or genealogy. Something discrete and innocuous for the rest of society, something that doesn’t promote magical cures or other medical malpractice. This honey nonsense is the same old tinfoil hat conspiracy idiocy all over again. This is what we get when we indulge grubby DIY backyard farmers — they think they can smear clean wholesome food to make their grubby product appear desirable by comparison. Maybe they should run for president if they insist on relying upon negative campaigning to win us over.

  • Marla Miller

    The angry sour comments on this article are unbelievable. Chinese companies are importing honey to the US and in contains everything from antibiotics to corn syrup, and has been stripped of pollen and smuggled in to be sold at below market rate and undercut american honey producers.
    I could care less whether my honey is organic, but I certainly don’t want this Chinese garbage in stores and restaurants.

  • GW

    I strongly suspect that the Florida law was originally in response to the many items on grocery store shelves that are named “Honey-something-or-other” that don’t contain any honey. There are a surprising number of these and a surprising number of items that actually have honey in the ingredient lable after sugar, brown sugar & corn syrup and yet have honey in the name as if it is a major ingredient(Honey Bunches of Oats cereal for example)
    As a beekeeper I filter my honey. If I don’t the honey crystallizes around the bits of comb, etc and is not usable the way most people want to use it.

  • emer

    The real big problem with “ultra-filtered” honey is the fact that it is untraceable. Because of this, questionable companies of ill-repute can harvest honey in horrible conditions with slave like labor practices and use additives to boost volume. Most of this “honey” comes from China. Some countries (I believe the USA as well) ban the importing of this product so they sell to countries that don’t have these restrictions. Those in turn change the country of origin on the “honey” and sell to countries with the ban. I’m not saying that China or its products are bad. It’s just scetchy for the fact that there is absolutely no reason to take the pollen out of honey except to hide where it came from.

  • http://www.legalfunding.com/solutions/plaintiff_funding.cfm Lulaine @ RD Legal Funding

    Selling a mislabeled product to the public is wrong for many reasons. The product people think they are buying, some maybe allergic to that and that can open a can of worms. It’s almost like selling organic beef but its not in the contents. This is a litigation breeding ground for plaintiffs and while not lethal maybe able to set a precedent.

  • Lucy L

    It’s amazing how most of the bloggers here, DON”T KNOW anything about honey!!!

  • Joann

    OK! I am fortunate to live in Florida and purchase my REAL HONEY from local bee keepers!!!!!!! There is a definite difference in store brands, opposed to “home grown!” I look forward to the new crop of orange blossom and kumquat. I enjoy the taste of clover, however that one is difficult to come by down here. The Florida bee keepers have fought for years to protect “pure honey.” Keep on buying the colored corn syrup folks. Pay the few extra pennies and get and ENJOY THE REAL THING! WHILE YOU ARE AT IT, BE MINDFUL IN THE GARDEN AND PROTECT THE POLLEN GATHERING INSECTS! They do more than make honey!

  • http://www.ocarinahoney.com Ocarina Foods

    I’d second what Joann has mentioned. Buying from local beekeepers you get raw honey (health benefits from local pollen and the honey being raw) as well as supporting your local economy. Not to mention getting the raw stuff as close to straight from the hive increases the quality (in my opinion).

  • Jackie Aldridge

    I’ve bought honey all my adult life. Most of the time honey may crystalize but it didn’t turn brown and have extremely hard brown sugar lumps crystalize out while leaving a brown syrup. Lately that’s what’s been happening with some honey I buy. I put one of those spoiled jars of honey outside for the ants and they wouldn’t even touch it. So, I guess I’ll stop buying honey in stores and only buy it from a local farm, where I can see the extraction taking place.

  • Unknown Dude

    @ Jackie, from what i’ve read, real honey doesn’t even spoil. Archeologist have found honey inside of clay jars kept thousands of years, and while they may not have eaten it, it did look, smell, and have the exact same texture of new honey. You will know its fake if it spoils!

  • joyce

    WOW, incredible how many people don’t know that POLLEN is actually NUTRITIONAL and medicinal – it’s what is GOOD about eating honey. Anyway, what would you rather have some pollen or illegal ANTIBIOTICS in your honey? Because untraceable honey from China via any other country is tainted with stuff a thousand times worse than pollen.
    Amazing how many people actually think ultra-filtered is good. Did you even read/understand what this debate is about?!