The discovery of veterinary medicine residues in a UK brand of honey has again underlined the potential threat posed by counterfeit products.
Distributor Morris & Sons is removing Natural Choice Brand Pure Clear Honey from supermarket shelves after elements of chloramphenicol and sulphonamide were detected.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) reported that the honey was adulterated with invert syrup, and is said to have an odd taste. As such, the FSA considers the honey to be a counterfeit product.
This underlines a worrying trend. The amount of fake food and drinks entering the EU grew by 200 per cent last year. By comparison the average growth of all faked goods, including cigarettes, cosmetics, clothes, toys, grew by 12 per cent.
Counterfeiting and tampering can undermine consumers trust in the quality and safety of a branded food product, leading to a loss in market share. And, as in this case, can pose a potential threat to health.
Both chloramphenicol and sulphonamide are illegal. Chloramphenicol, which it is thought could cause cancer, can also lead to aplastic anaemia in susceptible people.
Exposure to chloramphenicol in food in any quantity is undesirable, but the level of risk will depend on how much is consumed and how frequently.
Chloramphenicol has been banned in Europe for use on animals since 1994 and it is illegal for it to be in honey. The presence of sulphonamide in honey is also illegal.
The FSA has now issued a Food Alert for Action, giving details of the affected product. The brand of honey is packaged in a glass jar with a gold screw top lid. On the front of the jar is a label, which is yellow in colour with a honeycomb effect background.
The words 'Natural Choice' are in black lettering at the top of the label, beneath this are the words 'Pure Clear Honey' in blue lettering and then in small case are the words 'A delicate blend of the worlds finest honey'.
About 4.4 million items of foodstuff, drinks and alcoholic items were seized in the EU last year. The total represents four per cent of the total counterfeit items seized in the EU last year. China accounted for most of the total faked goods seized last year.
In terms of origin, Russia accounted for about 13 per cent of the fakes in foods and drinks. The Ukraine accounted for another 13 per cent, the Dominican Republic nine per cent, Nigeria nine per cent, the US six per cent, Hungary four per cent and Argentina four per cent.