Cheap imported honey might not come from bees, watchdog warns

Breakfast lovers, don’t get stung reaching for that local honey to spread on your toast. It might not be Australian and it might not come from bees.

The consumer watchdog is preparing to act on some brands of cheap imported honey, which the bee industry claims do not meet local food standards and could be deceptively labelled.

‘Victoria Honey’, imported from Turkey, is one of four products identified by the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council as potentially breaching labelling laws amid claims it isn’t made from honey.

The low-cost one kilogram honey tubs have been found in fruit shops around the country and are part of a sticky flood of similar products competing with local producers. 

According to the industry, more than 200 tonnes of allegedly substandard honey have been imported since complaints were first lodged a couple of years ago.

Tests have been sent to Germany for analysis, with the industry saying the result show the products do not contain honey and are most likely corn syrup. 

The industry has also told the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that imported products with names like ‘Victoria Honey’ are misleading because consumers might think they come from Australia. They identified another imported honey being sold with a map of Australia on its logo. 

An ACCC official said in a Senate hearing last week that the watchdog was preparing to act on the complaints and would make an announcement within weeks.

Fairfax Media contacted the local distributor of Victoria Honey but did not receive a response. 

Australian Honey Bee Industry Council executive director Trevor Weatherhead became aware of the problem after noticing honey being imported pre-packed for nearly half the cost of what local farmers were getting.

He said the low price of cheap imported honey was a problem, as was the potential for a “funny taste” to turn off consumers.

“If someone buys that and then doesn’t like the flavour they might not buy any more,” he said.

Politicians have called for action to reform Australia’s food labelling laws. Independent senator Nick Xenophon said consumers were being conned and Australian honey producers robbed of a fair deal. 

“The penalties should be much more severe. There should be a warning for importers of products,” he said.

Nationals senator John Williams said he was sick of a lack of action on food labelling, particularly as the honey industry struggles with drought and bushfires affecting production. 

“This is just crazy. The honey industry is already doing it tough, we’ve got to help them and do what we can for them,” he said.