When is a Thick Sweet Syrupy Substance Properly Labeled as Honey?

April 13, 2014

By Riëtte van Laack

In 2006, the American Beekeeping Federation and honey industry groups petitioned FDA (Docket No. FDA-2006-P-0207) to adopt a standard of identity for honey.  In 2011, FDA denied this petition because it concluded that no standard of identity was needed.  FDA asserted that existing enforcement tools could achieve petitioners’ goals. 

On April 9, 2014, FDA announced the availability of a draft guidance on the proper labeling of honey and honey products.  According to FDA, this draft guidance addresses the labeling issues relevant to the 2006 petition and reinforces existing laws and regulations to the industry.

FDA broadly defines honey as “a thick, sweet, syrupy substance that bees make as food from the nectar of flowers and store in honeycombs.”  The guidance does not address whether honey that has been subjected to ultrafiltration, removal of pollen, etc., qualifies as honey.  Instead it focuses on the labeling of honey with added sweeteners and other substances, and on the possible contamination with illegal pesticides.

The draft guidance includes a list of questions and answers including how and when to declare the floral source of honey, how to label products that contain honey and a sweetener, or honey and another ingredient such as natural flavors.

FDA notes that it has a “long-standing” import alert for surveillance of honey for adulteration with cane or corn sugars. The imported products are not admitted until FDA determines that they are not misbranded.

Although anyone can comment on any guidance at any time, to ensure that FDA receive and consider comments before finalizing the guidance, comments should be submitted by June 9, 2014.