Testing honey—a public service
The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) did the public a service by testing honey products in the country. For many years now, consumers have resorted to a hundred DIY ways to check if their honey is real and pure.
These home tests include “trial by fire,” or lighting a matchstick dipped in honey; if it lights up when scratched on a matchbox, the honey is authentic—the theory being that sugar suppresses ignition. There is the “pour slowly over finger” test that checks the consistency (and authenticity) of the honey; if it slides glacially, it is the real thing. Others think the “fridge” test works: Pure honey does not freeze while fake ones do.
Some swear by the “eyesight” test: Check visually for signs or presence of honeycombs, foam, and the like, indicating the honey was harvested directly from beehives. Or dissolve honey in water to see if it dissipates or still coagulates. Sugar dissolves instantly in water; honey will show its famed hexagonal patterns. Finally, just dip your finger and do the “taste test.”
But the reality is none of these, and all of these, cannot tell the real versus the fake. Honey is a form of natural sugar, after all, hence explaining the difficulty of telling one type from another. Fakes include adulterated ones that add sugar to honey to increase the volume and hence gain more profits.
Of the 76 brands tested, 62, or a staggering 82 percent of honey products in the market, were found to be fake. This is a problem everywhere. For example, a study in Australia in 2018 tested five raw samples of honey and 95 local and global-branded honey, and found that 27 percent were adulterated.
This is worse than fake Louis Vuittons or class A Guccis, because at least you don’t eat the fake leather. We take honey for its health benefits, and in this season of stress and the coronavirus, for its immunological boost. Woe to us if we end up actually drinking sugar and more sugar, as when we use honey as a sugar substitute.
The public policy should be to immediately publish the results of the study to show its methodology and to verify its accuracy. This is to prevent direct harm to consumers who are led to buy or use fake honey, by outing the erring companies and sellers. This also avoids harming the pure honey suppliers, as the natural reaction of the public would be to stop all consumption of honey until we know which ones are real.
Sellers like supermarkets and online providers need to take responsibility, too, and stop peddling and profiting from fake products. The DOST can hopefully continue with its vigilance by regularly conducting tests. We recall the problem with impure “purified” water that sold more than its equivalent in petrol.
Eventually, the DOST can develop a truly useful or reliable DIY kit to help consumers check the authenticity of honey easily and economically in their homes. This will spread the time and money costs of monitoring, and hold entities to account. Such tests can be pioneering and may even be exported to other countries. The DOST can continue and expand its program of testing commonly consumed items.
With the impending arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of the supplier or which foreign regulator approved it, one cannot be sure that at the point of injection, what is being introduced to your body is the real thing. If it happens to honey and liver spread, shouldn’t the highest standard of care and extraordinary diligence be taken to ensure that millions of us are given what we paid for?
In the long run, the food safety of consumers requires a food law that sets up the framework and operations to ensure our well-being 24/7. Developing countries do not have a good track record for such an institutional and systematic approach, but we need to continue to advocate and to try.
This is a similar issue we are currently facing with the looming vaccination program. I find it comical that we have to do our own trials to use a vaccine. Given our known capacities, if it is approved by any of the globally recognized institutions, it should more than pass muster. Lest we forget, the World Health Organization’s regional office is right here in the Philippines, along Taft Avenue, with a key office embedded in the Department of Health headquarters.
But let’s start with testing honey. There are lessons to be learned.
Geronimo L. Sy is a former assistant secretary of the Department of Justice. He set up the department’s Office of Cybercrime and Office for Competition.
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