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Honey without pollen?; Push for a national standard

A honey bee collects pollen from an Echinacea flower.
TRR photos by Fritz Mayer

By Fritz Mayer
May 1, 2013

REGION — Bees make honey from nectar and pollen; therefore one might think that honey would contain quite a bit of pollen. But, in fact, up to 75% of honey sold in grocery stores contains no pollen. The issue is spelled out in an article published in Food Safety News in November 2011, which tested 60 many brands of honey (

Of the lack of pollen, the article said, “The removal of these microscopic particles from deep within a flower would make the nectar flunk the quality standards set by most of the world’s food safety agencies.” Many beekeepers in this U.S. are pushing for a standard that would require that products sold as honey must contain pollen, but some of the big packers are opposed, and it’s not clear when or if there will ever be a national standard.

The current push can be tracked back to the 1990s, when according to documents on, U.S. courts ruled that China was illegally “dumping” cheap honey in the U.S. and a 215% tariff was imposed on Chinese honey. But most of the honey that comes from China and other overseas countries is heated and “ultra-filtered,” which not only removes the pollen from the honey, but also makes it nearly impossible to determine the origin.

In any case, cheap honey, sometimes adulterated with substances like corn syrup and sometimes containing antibiotics, which is illegal in the U.S., continued to flood the U.S. market. In 2006, various honey organizations petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to come up with a national standard and definition of honey.

Year after year, officials at the FDA stalled, and finally in 2011 said they were not going to create a national standard for honey. In the meantime, some states started to move on their own. First Florida, then California and North Carolina adopted their own honey standards, which said, among other things, that honey had to have pollen.

At least one industry source said those laws could not be passed today, because of opposition by some of the major honey packers in the U.S. The large packers are able to buy honey from China, pay the 215% tariff and still make a profit. Some are also in favor of ultra-purification because it extends the shelf life of the honey and it also renders the honey “crystal clear,” which is reportedly what the honey-buying public wants.