EXTRACT: Honey from Central and South America carries the greatest risk, because plenty of GM soy is growing there. At the same time these countries produce the majority of the world's honey supply...

NOTE: A German magazine recently had a range of honeys tested and found extensive GM contamination. We previously posted a summary in English of their article but now we have a translation of the full piece. The original in German is available here

Thanks to our GMWatch translators for both the summary and the full text - their details at
Buzz, buzz - BOOM!
Author: Birgit Hinsch
Source: Öko-Test (January 2009)

GM is spreading more and more, and now it has reached honey. In our test, a whopping 11 out of 24 honeys were contaminated with GM pollen mainly those from South America. Only three products were rated "very good".

Originally, honey is pure and natural. Collected by bees, enriched with enzymes and concentrated, it matures to a unique product in the bee hive. But pure and natural no longer prevails in large parts of our environment and that is, after all, where the bees are busy.

The possible impacts of this could be followed in 2008 in the media: For instance, in spring due to the insecticidal seed treatment agent clothianidin 500 million bees died in [the German state of] Baden-Württemberg. Another example is the case of a Swabian beekeeper who destroyed his whole honey harvest because it contained pollen of the genetically modified corn MON810. The Administrative Court had declared the honey as 'non marketable', however, the judgement is not yet absolute.

Besides dextrose and fructose, honey contains numerous valuable ingredients that not only determine colour and taste, but have beneficial health effects as well. Just recently a study confirmed that honey can fight germs effectively. Since most of the ingredients are sensitive to heat and partly to light as well, honey has to be processed gently; only thus its quality is retained for a long time. As a check serves i.e. Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) that develops during storage at high temperatures. A second indicator is the activity of the bee enzyme invertase. It indicates even short-term heatings, but also reflects the honey’s maturity.
We wanted to know about the current quality status of honey and sent eighteen conventional honeys and six canola honeys to our laboratories. Included this time were also six honeys from domestic production.

The test result... is alarming, because only three brands got a "very good". Many brands got an "average" result and six products passed as "poor" or "failed".

Almost half of all honey brands contained pollen from genetically modified plants. The majority of those were pollen from the widespread Roundup Ready soybean. The oil plant produces only a little nectar and is therefore not a typical honey flower, but bees will fly off with its pollen all the same. Honey from Central and South America carries the greatest risk, because plenty of GM soy is growing there. At the same time these countries produce the majority of the world's honey supply and the main share of the German honey market, too.

GM soy is found in "Sommerblütenhonig Feine Auslese" from Langnese. This honey passed only as "poor". In the previous test ”žÖKO-TEST Klassiker & Konkurrenten“ from September 2008 we did not test the honey brands for genetically modified ingredients, because at that time the scope of the problem was underestimated. Its rival, the Mexican Lacandona Creamy Wild Flower Honey from GEPA is GM free.

Mind you, in our tests honey from German beekeepers, products from Southeast Europe as well as Fairtrade honeys were not contaminated. The reason for the latter could be that small beekeepers produce their honey in less contaminated areas than large apiaries.

Among the canola honeys the laboratory discovered GM pollen in Bihophar Canadian Canola-Clover Honey not surprising since Canada is cultivating predominantly GM canola.

Pesticides were detected almost exclusively in German products. In most cases we found the insecticide thiacloprid in canola honey or honey with a great proportion of canola.

Sadly, higher pesticide residues can be found even in Allos' Organic Canola Honey. Because consumers presume organic honeys to be free from pesticides and following the BNN's [German association for organic foods and other products] benchmark for organic foods we had to mark this honey down.

Residues of bee pharmaceuticals used by apiarists to fight pests (such as mites), as well as the insect repellent DEET were found, if at all, only as traces.

Honey quality doesn't look all that promising, either. We find it particularly irritating, when a label claims more than what actually can be found in the jar. The Dreyer Canola Honey, for example, states on the label that it is "cold extracted" which implies a very gentle extraction but in fact has less invertase than is prescribed in the regulations for cold-extracted honey. Honig Müngersdorff's D.I.B.-Canola Honey also slips up: It contains more water than is permitted.

The cold-extracted Hoyer Gourmet Meadowflowers Organic Honey drops away completely. It blunders at not one, but two criteria of the honey regulations. What's more, it contains a lot of pollen from rape and mustard, but only very little from meadow flowers. Accordingly, its taste is just faintly reminiscent of meadow flowers.

Honeys that didn't get any special praise still comply with the minimum standards of the honey regulations their quality, however, can be quite inconsistent.

Inspectors detected a strong aftertaste reminiscent of paddock rather than meadow in Liquid Gut & Günstig Honey and in Dr Krieger's Honey. The experts stated that the aftertaste was natural and therefore not a fault as such, but producers should try to avoid this when bottling the honey.

Honey producers' reaction

Corporate honey producer Breitsamer wrote that beekeepers are the victims of gene technology. They themselves do not use any genetically modified material, do not cultivate GM plants, and have no interest in herbicide resistant plants.
Furthermore, bees cannot be controlled, because they search for nectar over an area of 50 square metres.

Lidl noted that the intake of genetically modified soy pollen is wholly coincidental, and that it can vary considerably even within the same batch; with quantities also being very small.

Alnatura reported that honey was usually obtained from areas not used for farming, where soy is rarely grown anyway. With the help of a tightly controlled program for sampling and analysis it should be possible to avoid contamination with GMO.

Producer Allos confirmed our result, but clarified that the pesticides present weren't ones used by their beekeepers, and that their honey would still be produced using organic principles.

Dr. Krieger's said they had tried the honey again and hadn't been able to make out that supposed aftertaste.

Honey a borderline case in food legislation

Nobody wants GM technology in honey naturally this includes bee keepers. On the other hand, findings show that the peaceful coexistence of conventional and GM agriculture is impossible, and becoming increasingly so. In this respect, our evaluation is more of a political nature, and not due to a lack of care by the producers.

The legal situation does not offer any support for the classification of GM technology in honey. This is because the modified gen remnants in pollen are not capable of reproduction, and therefore are not genetically modified organisms (GMO).

GM-technology legislation, however, refers expressly to GMO. This means that the constituent genes in honey need neither be approved nor labelled. Verdicts like that of the Administrative Court in Augsburg (FRG) on genetically modified maize MON810, demonstrate however, that other legal interpretations exist. Background: MON810 does not currently have approval for food use. A frequently-used lever is the threshold of 0.9 percent, above which products must be labelled. Since honey only contains approximately 0.1 to 0.5 percent pollen, labelling is not required.

Laws shmaws: For the most part consumers are kept in the dark.