Who Would Benefit from a Federal Standard of Identity for Honey?

August 25, 2014

By Riëtte van Laack

As previously discussed, since at least 2006, the U.S. honey bee industry has been trying to get FDA to adopt a standard of identity for honey.   In 2006, the American Beekeeping Federation and honey industry groups petitioned FDA for a standard (Docket No. FDA-2006-P-0207).  More than five years later, in 2011 and despite continued prodding by different parties, FDA denied this petition.  FDA concluded that no standard of identity was needed.  As evidenced by the draft guidance issued in April 2014, FDA has maintained its position.  In this 2014 draft guidance, the Agency repeated its position that honey is “a thick, sweet, syrupy substance that bees make as food from the nectar of flowers and store in honeycombs.” According to FDA, this definition accurately reflects the common usage of the term honey. 

In the absence of a federal standard of identity, a number of states (including Wisconsin and Florida) have adopted, or proposed to adopt, their own state standards of identity or a definition for honey.  According to comments to the draft guidance, no two state standards or definitions are identical.  Apparently concerned about the potential effect of these state standards and definitions, and FDA’s continued refusal to adopt a federal standard, Congress, in the 2014 Farm Bill, tasked USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (“AMS”) with the preparation of a report on the need for a standard of identity for honey (Section 10012 of Public Law No. 113-79).  In its report, AMS is to address whether a federal standard of identity for honey would be in the interest of consumers, the U.S. honey industry, and U.S. agriculture.

As directed by the 2014 Farm Bill, AMS issued a notice seeking comments on the 2006 petition.  Specifically, AMS seeks comments regarding the adoption of deviations from the Codex Standard for Honey, CODEX standard 12–1981, Rev. 2 (2001), as defined in the petitioner’s request and on how a federal standard of identity for honey would benefit consumers, the honey industry, and U.S. agriculture.

At best, the AMS report might persuade FDA to reconsider its position.  Ultimately, it remains for FDA to decide on the adoption of a standard.  Comments are due Sept. 19, 2014.