Just a spoonful of sugar? – Is your honey pure?

Just a spoonful of sugar? – Is your honey pure?
03 Feb 2020

Have you ever wondered if the honey you are buying is truly what it attests to be on its label, that is, “pure”, “natural”, “raw”, or straight from the hive? It appears that most honey products on the market in South Africa, despite what their labels claim, contain a spoonful of sugar or syrup, or three (and I’m talking tablespoons!), and do not have the health benefits that truly pure or raw honey affords its consumers. Discerning honey buyers are looking for honey products that are truly unadulterated so as to maximise the healing and medicinal properties that “raw” and “pure” honey contains.

Did you know that there are various pieces of legislation in place in South Africa that aim to assist with the prevention of rogue honey products that are widely available for sale? Even at the most seemingly credible health and/or retail stores, they are not quite what they claim to be on their labels – “natural”, “raw” or “pure”.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries administers the Regulations Relating to the Grading, Packing & Marking of Honey and Mixtures of Bees Products intended for Sale in the Republic of South Africa Under Government Notice R.835 of 25 August 2000 read in accordance with the Agricultural Products Standards Act No. 119 of 1990. Regulation 9 (1) relates to labelling of honey products and states that:

No wording, illustration or other means of expression which constitutes a misrepresentation or which, directly or by implication, may create a misleading impression of the contents, shall appear on any container containing honey or mixtures of bee products.

In terms of the afore-mentioned Honey Regulations “raw” honey means unfiltered, unheated honey, i.e. honey which would conform to the specifications and requirements of Choice Grade liquid honey if so processed.

In addition to the above cited Act and related Regulations, honey labels also should comply with The Foodstuffs, Cosmetics & Disinfectants Act No. 54 of 1972, which is regulated by the Department of Health, and The Legal Metrology Act No. 09 of 2014 as applied by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications. Regulation 47(2) of the Regulations relating to the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs (1 March 2010), enacted under the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectant’s Act, 1972, for example, states as follows:

“In the case of foodstuffs that are not regulated in terms of the Agricultural Products Standards Act, 1990 (Act 119 of 1990) or National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications Act, 2008 (Act 5 of 2008), statements to the effect of being “fresh”, “natural”, “nature’s”, “pure”, “traditional”, “original”, “authentic”, “real”, “[etc], “or any other any words, statements or phrases, logos or pictorial representations which convey or imply similar concepts, shall be permitted if compliant with the criteria stipulated in” [the Guidelines to the Regulations].

The Guidelines, inspired by UK labelling laws, suggest, amongst other requirements, that the term “natural” must only apply to products that contain natural ingredients that do not employ chemicals or heat to change their composition or that do not incorporate additives and flavourings that are the product of the chemical industry.

Strict criteria should be applied, and an assessment by retailers should be carried out to ensure that the honey products they sell, that are labelled “pure”, “natural” or “raw”, are truly what they attest to be and have undergone various quality control assessments, and have food safety accreditations and certifications in place.

If honey is sourced from a farm that is a member of the South African Bee Industry Organisation, it is also more likely to emanate from a reliable source, and typically labels will reference such accreditation or include a membership claim. The Bee Industry Organisation has the following mission statement:

To represent and promote the interests of all persons involved in the beekeeping industry in South Africa in order to establish, support and develop an economically viable and sustainable apicultural sector and ensure the environmental security of the honeybee.

Often legitimate “pure”, “raw” or “natural” honey products also emanate from a single source or origin and not from multiple countries, for example, so this is also something to look out for on a label.

Given that there are the above Regulations in place that seek to protect the consumer, why are there still so many rogue mislabelled products on the market that even the most discerning honey consumers believe to be legitimate? Good question!

See also:

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
Karen Kitchen
Karen Kitchen

Karen Kitchen is a Director and Trade Mark Attorney at KISCH IP. Karen specialises in trade mark litigation, including infringement and unlawful competition matters, opposition and cancellation proceedings, extending throughout Africa. She has been in practice for more 10 years and has advised clients in a variety of industries including telecommunications, retail, food and beverage, banking and finance, as well as the pharmaceutical industry, on how to protect and enforce their various intellectual property rights and ensure the related commercial and regulatory aspects are sound.

Send a legal query to Karen Kitchen
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