A much anticipated report from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service delivered to FDA Dec. 29 “provides little direction for FDA” other than to confirm that the majority of commenters told AMS that a federal standard for honey would benefit consumers, industry and U.S. agriculture, Riette van Laack, a D.C.-based lawyer, notes in a blog post for her firm Hyman, Phelps and McNamara.
According to the report, which was mandated by the 2014 Farm Bill, 89% of the 85 respondents who answered USDA’s request for comment on the matter favored a national standard and only one commenter clearly said that the standard was not needed.
They reasoned a national standard would “bring consistency to marketing” honey in the U.S. where several states, including Wisconsin and Florida, have proposed or adopted different standards in the absence of a national standard, according to the report.
The majority also told USDA that a national standard was necessary because “unrestricted import of substandard product” placed small honey producers at risk of going out of business, which could trigger a domino effect of damage. It could cause small producers to stop pollination services, cause a drop in the overall domestic honeybee population and negatively impact the remaining honey producers, according to the report.
“By defining honey and establishing separate requirements for major and minor production by volume, small domestic producers could thrive and continue to expand,” the report notes.
These arguments echo some that were outlined in a 2006 citizen petition filed by the American Beekeeping Federation and other stakeholders, which goes into greater detail about the risks of economic adulteration of honey. FDA denied the petition and reinforced in later guidance that a sufficient definition of honey is “a thick, sweet, syrup substance that bees make as food from the nectar of flowers and store in honeycombs.”
Different opinions on the standard
The comments submitted to USDA no longer retained the unified front on what a definition of honey should include as they did when the citizen petition was filed and advocated for a definition based on the Codex Standard with a few deviations.
Rather, “there were disparate opinions about how to frame” the honey standard, according to the report. Specifically, some wanted the standard to define filtration levels, the maximum amount of hydroxymethylfurfural in raw honey and require a measurable pollen count to identify floral sources, the report notes.
Without a clear consensus, action anytime soon is unlikely by FDA, which is bogged down with other pressing requirements, such as enacting provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act.