China's next food scandal: honey laundering

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 4:56pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 7:40pm

China's National Television has brought another case of "food forgery" to the spotlight in a country where fake eggs, beef and tofu have become staple items in national news coverage.

Police in Chongqing's Hechuan district have discovered a production site for fake honey and confiscated about 500 kilograms of the fake nectar, the national broadcaster said in a report on Sunday.

"The artificial honey contained zero per cent real honey," the report said, showing a chemical analysis report according to which the honey contained 187 milligrams of aluminium residue to every kilogram of honey.

The report has gone viral on Chinese microblogs, where it has been shared more than 300,000 times, making it one of the most trending topics on Wednesday. Newspapers have followed up with reports on how to identify fake honey.

"Artificial honey has a chemical odour, it either has a pungent or a fruity smell, whereas real, pure honey has a subtle scent of flowers," one report reads.

"Honey can also be placed on a piece of white paper, if the honey spreads out, it could contain water or cane sugar. Another method is to add boiling water to a small amount of honey, let it cool and then add drops of yellow rice wine, if [the mixture] turns blue, red or violet, the honey contains starch."

"Now, being Chinese means being a food inspection safety expert," one person commented on Sina Weibo. "We should get the Nobel Prize for chemistry," another quipped.

The China Central Television report, however, wasn't as timely as it claimed.

It reported on raids on four production sites which started on April 2 in Chongqing, in which five suspects were detained and 38 buckets full of artificial honey made from water, sugar, alum powder and colouring were confiscated.

Since 2010, the group have been producing honey for 10 yuan per kilo and selling it for 40 to 60 yuan. Hechuan farmers made fortunes with their honey; the forgers had exploited that reputation.

China is the world's largest producer of honey and exports large amounts to the rest of the world.

Last month, a study shook France, according to which 10 per cent of the honey consumed in the country is "fraudulent". The samples had been labelled as French, but originated either in China or Eastern Europe.

Two months earlier, after a years-long probe named Project Honeygate, US customs busted a honey smuggling ring, in which leading American honey producers smuggled inferior honey from China via Australia to the US.