Saudi Arabia and Myanmar have little in common, except that Canadian companies are importing honey from both of those countries.
Myanmar exported $388,000 worth of honey to Canada between Jan. 1 and the end of March, while $238,000 worth of honey came from Saudi Arabia, according to federal government statistics.
In comparison, Canada imported $1.1 million in honey from the United States during that same period.
The import data is making Canadian beekeepers suspicious because Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s larger importers of honey, and Myanmar is a tiny player in the global honey industry.
“What we’ve seen is, in the latest import stats, is that countries that are unusual, have unusually high imports into Canada,” said Rod Scarlett, executive director of the Canadian Honey Council.
“It’s countries that really don’t produce a lot of honey.”
In addition to Saudi Arabia and Myanmar, honey came into Canada from places like Zambia and Moldova between Jan. 1 and March 31.
Canadian beekeepers are concerned about the imports because honey prices have plummeted over the last year. Bulk honey was $2.20 to $2.30 per pound last spring. It now is selling for approximately $1.30 per lb.
It’s possible, but difficult to prove, that the honey from these unusual countries originated in China, the largest producer of honey in the world.
China has a reputation for poor quality honey loaded with contaminants, as well as for producing fake honey from corn syrup and shipping its honey through third party countries to reach desirable export markets, thus avoiding a “Made in China” label on the product.
“A review of Thailand’s honey trade over the past 10 years reveals a correlation between sharp increases in export and increases of imports of honey from China and its surrogates,” Ron Phipps, a global honey expert, said in his recent honey market report for the American Honey Producers Association.
“Both Thailand and Ukraine, the number of hives and level of beekeeping activity does not justify the quantity … of honey exported.”
Scarlett said the imported honey, which could be corn syrup blended with honey, steals market share from domestic honey and drives down prices for Canadian beekeepers.
“It (imported honey) can be at least 50 cents a lb. lower,” he said, adding that honey is part of a broader trend where phony food, such as fake olive oil, is becoming more common.
Scarlett said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency may need to shift its priorities and focus more on fake food.
“So that they do look at food fraud and consumer protection.”
The North American honey industry is fighting back against importers that buy honey from questionable countries and brokers. A consortium of companies, including Bee Maid Honey in Canada, has developed a labelling initiative called True Source Honey. The group is committed to buying authentic honey from known beekeepers and brokers. The initiative has a voluntary traceability program with third party auditing.