Honey producers stung by ‘worst harvest in decades’ call for crackdown on adulterated imports

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Cheap - and sometimes adulterated - imports are undercutting the European honey industry, Copa Cogeca warns / Pic: GettyImages-Recebin
Cheap - and sometimes adulterated - imports are undercutting the European honey industry, Copa Cogeca warns / Pic: GettyImages-Recebin

Related tags: Bees, Food fraud, Honey

With European honey harvests down 40% in 2020, Copa and Cogeca warns ‘the survival of professional beekeepers is really threatened’ and calls on European regulators to increase controls on cheaper imports that, they say, are a food fraud risk.

European honey producers have seen the ‘worst harvest in decades’ as ‘one bad year follows another’, European farming organisation Copa and Cogeca warned last week. Indeed, data from the body predicted a 40% drop in honey harvests this year.

Declining production is being driven by ‘tense climate conditions’ which have reduced flowering periods in most EU countries.

“Climate change is only one of the parameters, but it is becoming more and more important every year. It is always believed that it is the worst years and the following year is even worse. In Italy, for example, it's been three years in a row that the harvests have been falling,”​ the chairman of Copa Cogeca's working party on honey, Ettiene Bruneau, told FoodNavigator.

Heavy rain and floods in Central and Eastern Europe and a drought in July resulted in disparities across member states. As the main honey producers are located in Eastern and Southern Europe, the Copa and Cogeca honey working group expects an 'unprecedented drop’ in Europe-wide production.

The farming organisation forecast the 'near absence' on the market of certain honeys from these regions, with varieties such as acacia honey under pressure. In Hungary alone, the acacia crop was only 10% of the normal harvest. In Austria, beekeepers reported that such bad harvests 'have not been registered in decades'. Production drops were registered in Portugal (-80%) and the south of Italy (-70% to -80%). 

Low production doesn’t equal higher prices

The European honey sector is beset by a number of structural issues that are increasingly coming to make honey production in the region unsustainable, Bruneau warned.

European producers only provide 64% of the honey consumed in the region, the rest is imported. This means that, despite the extreme drop in production, prices are unlikely to increase as European producers are undercut by cheaper imports.

Copa and Cogeca described this situation as reflective of ‘deep and structural market distortions’ and suggested that honey prices in the ‘main’ importing countries ‘keep falling’.

“The survival of professional beekeepers is really threatened,”​ Bruneau told us, pointing to issues such as ‘adulterated honey flooding the EU market at very low price’.

GettyImages-CBCK-Christine bee honey
Climate change has disrupted the flowering season, hitting honey production / Pic: GettyImages-CBCK-Christine

‘Proper tools’ to protect EU honey producers

Copa and Cogeca argued ‘proper tools’ are needed to safeguard the European honey industry.

Regulators should look at issues around origin labelling and the adulteration of imported honey - “two big threats to which European legislators have to take serious measures.”

Noting that the sector includes 10m hives and 650,000 beekeepers, Bruneau argued: “Last year we were already sounding the alarm by asking the European Commission to set up an emergency action plan. It is clear that the situation is not getting better, it is getting worse.”

Copa and Cogeca wants European regulators to leverage the Common Agricultural Policy to protect the honey sector in the same way it does animal protein producers. “The CAP fights against the detrimental effects of volatility on the market of animal products such as milk or meat. There is an urgent need for such risk management and promotion measures for European products to be put in place for the sector in the same way as the indication of origin for honey products and stricter controls from import from third countries.”

In particular, Bruneau is keen to see tighter quality control on honey imported to Europe from third parties. “More and better-quality control of imported honey, to avoid adulterated products reaching final consumers, would really help EU beekeepers and the honey sector,”​ he insisted.

According to the European Commissions Joint Research Centre (JRC), ‘at least’ 14% of honey samples tested in the market were found to be adulterated, with the most common adulteration the inclusion of sugars or syrups.

“We want beekeeping to be an activity that allows the economic survival of people because it is totally in line with respect for the environment and sustainable development," ​Breueau stressed. 

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