The disturbing link between high fructose corn syrup and honey

The disturbing link between high fructose corn syrup and honey

High fructose corn syrup, that sweet over-produced commodity of agribusinesses everywhere, has been linked in two miserable ways to bees and honey. The first discovery was made almost two years ago, and the second only 2 months ago. First, most of the “honey” available for purchase in supermarkets is not really honey, but instead an ultra-filtered impostor often produced in China, and frequently contains high fructose corn syrup. Secondly, honey-producing bees in their hives are being fed high fructose corn syrup instead of their own honey, and new research has linked this practice to colony collapse disorder.

I recently learned that much of the honey we are buying is diluted with HFC, but this practice was exposed back in 2011. According to research, up to 75% of the honey purchased in the US is not technically honey, since it contains no trace of pollen. Ultrafiltration has been used to purge the honey of all pollen, thereby making it impossible to determine the source of the honey. According to an article published by Food Safety News:

Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen, which is the only foolproof sign identifying the source of the honey. It is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of their honey – some containing illegal antibiotics – on the U.S. market for years.

It naturally follows that big box stores and pharmacies, purveyors of some of the most processed foods available, had the worst quality honey. Stores like Walmart and Target, pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, and even restaurants like KFC and McDonald’s sold honey mostly or entirely without pollen.

It seems one reason to ultrafilter honey may be extending shelf life and providing crystal clear honey. But skeptics and those in the industry state the main reason to do this is to obscure the origin of the honey, which may be India, China, or Brazil, and may contain prohibited levels of pesticides, heavy metals, antibiotics, and dilutions with cheap high fructose corn syrup.

Raw honey contains many complex substances, some of which are antioxidants and have purported medicinal qualities. Yet besides providing superior relief of head cold symptoms compared with over-the-counter drugs, and possibly aiding wound healing, the medicinal benefits of honey are mostly unproven or over-stated.  But the real stuff surely tastes better – like a fine Argentinian Malbec compared to a boxed Franzia sweet zinfandel… but I digress.

The researchers found that the honey they purchased at farmers markets, co-ops and “natural” stores like PCC and Trader Joe’s had the full, anticipated amount of pollen, and was therefore “real.”

And the second disturbing association between HFC and honey bees is that since the 1970′s many mass honey producers have been draining the honey from hives during production,  replacing it with high fructose corn syrup for the bees to eat. This practice was deemed safe initially, but a recent study has found this practice is contributing to colony collapse disorder, and may actually be a prime cause.

In the study published in Proceedings of The National Academy of Science, researchers found that honey contains at least three substances that help stimulate the immune systems of bees, thereby making them stronger and more able to withstand the many pesticides and pathogens to which they are exposed:

As a major component of pollen grains, p-coumaric acid is ubiquitous in the natural diet of honey bees and may function as a nutraceutical regulating immune and detoxification processes. The widespread apicultural use of honey substitutes, including high-fructose corn syrup, may thus compromise the ability of honey bees to cope with pesticides and pathogens and contribute to colony losses.

While the HFC fed to bees seems to be a major part of the problem, one cannot ignore the other scientific studies that implicate Bayer’s neonicotinoid pesticides, and the genetically-modified crops engineered by Monsanto that are treated with the pesticide.

And so it seems that in at least two ways, high fructose corn syrup and honey should not be interchanged. Eating ultra-filtered honey may expose us to untraceable, contaminated sources of honey that have been diluted in cynical, profit-increasing ways. Similarly, feeding honey bees high fructose corn syrup deprives their immune systems of  necessary triggers of innate detoxification genes… and quite frankly just seemswrong.

If you are going to buy honey, look for the real stuff, perhaps at a farmers’ market. This may be reason #623 not to do your grocery shopping at a pharmacy. And regarding the health of bees, let’s all do what we can to help them, since they are an irreplaceable foundation of our food supply… and cute little buggers at that.

“Dr. Charles” is a family physician who blogs at The Examining Room of Dr. Charles and The Green Examining Room

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  • Ron Smith

    Thanks so much! This is profoundly shocking. I’ll be posting a link to this on my web site (or a link to wherever you suggest the post will always be available).

    Warmest regards,

    Ron Smith, MD
    www (dot) ronsmithmd (dot) com

  • Suzi Q 38

    I’ll remember to buy my honey at Trader Joe’s, thanks.

    • Anthony D

      Me too!

  • Mike

    “According to an article published by Food Safety News…”

    Good lord. I just scrolled through some of the comments to that article, and I think I lost some brain cells in so doing.

    My stock tip for the day: forget honey, buy big on TnFlHt.

    • Mike

      This was one of my favorites:

      “It wasn’t mentioned in this article, but it is common knowledge, since it has been all over the internet/media/government sites. Even Russia is threatening a world war if Obama doesn’t stop Monsanto from killing bees.”


  • drgn

    Mystery solved as to why bee colonies are collapsing. Our FDA hard at work again…..

  • Anthony D

    Nice picture of the honey!

  • helpothers5354

    Now I wonder if Golden Blossoms honey is ultra-filtered and heated??

  • John La Puma MD

    I have 6 backyard hives, which are very busy; recently, our local bee association organized to help beekeepers opt-out of the state-mandated-yet-apparently-negotiable spraying of neonics for the ACP (not an internist group, but Asian Citrus Psyllid), which has devastated orange groves in FL and threatens to do the same to oranges and lemons in Southern and Central California.

    About half of all beekeepers opted-out, which is pretty good for a grass roots quickie effort; yet the threat to citrus farmers by this pest, killed sustainably only by a parasitic wasp still in breeding in Pakistan (can’t make this stuff up), is real; and citrus farmers work very hard to produce fruit–in my case, Buddha’s hands and calamondins.

    Unappreciated here is that most neonicotinoids are used to treat seed (like most corn in the U.S.), and dust from planting flies off to kill bees. And that many conventionally raised seedlings start with neonic dusted seed; thus the power of organic seedlings and seed. And that the EU banned neonics for 2 years earlier this year. But not the U.S.

    Bottom line: look for raw, unfiltered, minimally processed on your honey jars, and buy from a farmer/beekeeper if you can. Organic is usually not meaningful, as bees forage up to 2 miles from their hives. Honey that crystalizes is probably a good sign, as high heated, seriously filtered honey does not.

    • Guest

      Australia is not at all interested in banning neonics, and yet they don’t suffer colony collapse. If neonics are the problem, why aren’t they upsetting Australia’s bee colonies?

      • John La Puma MD

        Yes, Australia doesn’t have the varroa mite yet either, which is also very destructive. They also have large populations of wild bees that do much of the pollination, I understand. My reading of the reports is that CC is a multifaceted disorder and that AU may simply be “behind” in these ways.

    • EmilyAnon

      I buy my honey at Trader Joe’s, but it has never crystalized, and is light color and clear. The can says it’s “pure, natural, U.S. Grade A” from the deserts of northern Mexico. I hope I’m not getting some GMO modified high fructose blend. But, how do I know? It sounds like the industry doesn’t have any oversight

      • John La Puma MD

        You don’t know, without buying from a farmer or a beekeeper, IMO. TJ named products (which I love) are GMO free. Certain blossom/flower combos are supposed to make it less likely that honey will crystallize than others. Most honey on the shelf in the U.S. is from China.

    • Peta

      You grow calamondins – lovely! I had never heard of them before, but an old college friend and her husband grow them down in Florida, and when we visited earlier this year I fell in love with their Calamondin Cake and preserves :)

      That was very interesting info about honey you shared, too. We’ve started buying ours at a local market, and the kids originally turned their noses up at it because it wasn’t as clear and light and “clean-looking” as the grocery-store kind — but it tastes so nice, they soon got over that. But I didn’t realize just why the grocery store honey (or should we call it “honey”, in quotes) was so clear and never crystallized, or that most of it was from China. We already eschew any seafood from China or Vietnam, precisely because the FDA does such a lousy job of screening it, I’m not happy to have honey from China either.

      Anyway, good luck with your fruit, and your bees!

      • John La Puma MD

        Thank you: I love rare citrus. When possible, eat local (starting with domestic). Foods that are indigenous to a culture (Italian parmigiano reggiano, for example or Spanish saffron) are wonderful exceptions and additions.

  • Guest

    If high fructose corn syrup is behind colony collapse, how do you explain colony collapse in countries where high fructose corn syrup is not the “thing” it is here?

    • LeoHolmMD

      GMO bees where a “killswitch” terminator gene has crossed over to the genome of wild colonies.

  • Sergio Balcazar, MD

    Years ago I stopped purchasing “Honey” from Sam’s after I learned what the article’s writer says, that honey from regular stores is not honey. Because we, at home, stopped using any kind of sugar, we have been using “Raw Honey”. The word Raw comes accompanied by the word “Unfiltered”
    It is more expensive, perhaps, but more trust worthy.
    I have learned to see this honey not just as a sweetener but as a Nutrient.

  • Carmichael

    I wondered why my honey tastes funny. I just went ahead and bought a bottle of Karo.
    It seems like I’ve been worrying about the bees forever.

  • meyati

    There’s a problem of not enough flowers to sustain a backyard beehive in the drought areas. My fruit trees are barren. If there aren’t enough flowers to gather enough food, the bees starve to death. I don’t use poisons. I don’t spray liquid fertilizers on my plants, but the bees are almost gone-no fruit, whatsoever. The other day I found a dying bee in my lawn. The bumble bees are also gone, and the humming birds are disappearing. Where I live the trees are dying-water rates are high and water overage fines can go to $3,000. The water authority will give you a one time rebate of about $25 if you hire a licensed landscaper to do your whole yard, including tree trimming. If the average person had that type of money, they would water trees and grow flowers. I was going to get a hive, but then I took a good look at my neighborhood-hardly any flowers-old trees that might have had wild bees-cut down. They say that even in none drought areas that backyard hives sometimes starve to death. One friend was able to get her neighbors to sign a compact of planting flowering plants. My neighborhood grows non-flowering plants to save money/water or grow nothing to save more money and water, yet they have swimming pools all over the place-even in my neighborhood, public decorative water fountains-some thing is skewed. I belong to several bee organizations-and sign petitions to allow backyard hives, ban fructose as bee food, etc.

    • meyati

      Last night the water authority removed the Draconian fines. Still lots of dying and dead trees.

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