Fake Chinese honey imports spur Spanish producers to demand EU action

A Spanish beekeeper protests in front of the Ministry of Agriculture in Madrid - Carlos Lujan/Getty Images
A Spanish beekeeper protests in front of the Ministry of Agriculture in Madrid - Carlos Lujan/Getty Images

Spanish honey producers are demanding the EU change its labelling laws to stop the industry from collapsing due to cheap imports of fake honey from China.

Cheap products from overseas have added to a swarm of local problems for Spanish beekeepers, who say they will be driven out of business if no action is taken to defend an industry that provides crucial pollination for the rest of the country’s agricultural sector.

“Chinese honey doesn’t pollinate plants here in Spain,” said José Luis Delgado, a beekeeper from Durón in Guadalajara province, a heartland for honey production thanks to its proliferation of flowering herbs such as lavender, thyme and rosemary.

COAG, Spain’s agricultural union, and other beekeeper associations are demanding a change in EU labelling rules on the blended honeys sold in supermarkets.

Beekeepers at work on hives in Girona, Spain - Manuel Medir/Getty
Beekeepers at work on hives in Girona, Spain - Manuel Medir/Getty

There is currently no obligation to state what proportion of a blended honey comes from which country, meaning a product can appear half-Spanish when, in fact, as little as 1 per cent of it could be made up of honey from Spain.

A 2023 study carried out for the European Commission showed that half of the honey imported into the EU is being marketed fraudulently as it is not pure and contains sugar syrups, with China the biggest culprit.

Pedro Loscertales, COAG beekeeping sector chief, said consumers needed better information. In the meantime, he said, “buying directly from beekeepers is the best guarantee of authenticity and quality of honey”.

Spain is Europe’s biggest honey producer with more than three million beehives, but Mr Delgado, the farmer, describes an industry on its last legs, reeling from the triple whammy of drought, disease borne by mites and a price squeeze.

Most of Spain’s 36,000 beekeeping farmers are itinerant, moving their hives around the country on trucks to keep up with seasonal blooms.

“I think half of these traditional producers will fall by the wayside because their honey is sold by the barrel-load, with no special labelling, and they cannot compete with imports on price,” Mr Delgado told The Telegraph.

The average cost of honey imported into the European Union is €2.32 (£2) per kilo, with the typical cost of production in Spain above €3 and rising due to inflation.

Prices paid barely change

After a series of dry years, production of honey in Spain has fallen by 30 per cent since 2018, and yet, Mr Delgado said, the prices being paid by distributors have barely changed.

Mr Delgado is attempting to reverse the industry tendency toward cheap blends, selling his organic honey in half-kilo jars at €8 each.

“Quality is what we have in Spain. The best thing I can leave my son is 100 customers who love our honey, rather than five tonnes of annual bulk production.”

The son of a family doctor, honey became Mr Delgado’s passion by chance when his brother was given a hive as a present.

“I lifted the lid off and became totally fascinated just standing there looking at the complexity of it all. I was so lucky the bees were happy that day and didn’t sting me; otherwise, that would have been the end of me and beekeeping.”