Legislation about honey

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Legislation about honey

Honey trade in many parts of the world is governed by regulations.  These regulations fall into two broad categories

  1. They are used to ensure that a product sold as honey really is honey, and not an adulterated substance or false honey
  2. They are used to ensure that any honey is safe to eat, and is not contaminated with anything harmful to human health

The purpose of regulations are to maintain standards and keep consumers safe.  In different parts of the world different regulations apply.

Honey standards

Honey standards exist as a measure against which honey can be tested to show that it is honey, and not an adulterated substance.

The dominant internationally recognised standards have been created by The Codex Alimentarius Commission which was established in 1963 by FAO and WHO to develop food standards, guidelines and codes of practice applicable to globally traded foods.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission Standard for Honey is regarded as the minimum standard which should be achieved by any trader entering the international market.  See below for link to the CAC Standard for honey.

In addition to the CAC Standard for Honey, regions and countries also develop their own standards, many of which are based on the CAC Standard.

In the EU, Honey Standards are governed by Council Directive 2001/110/EC, and member countries have been guided by this Directive to develop their own National Honey Standards.

Elsewhere many nations have developed their own National Honey Standards.

These Standards are used to measure or test honeys available in the marketplace, to assess whether the product is really honey, with no added substances.  Beekeepers, honey traders and exporters should be aware of the honey standards which apply to the markets into which they sell their honey. However, provided they are producing, buying and selling genuine honey there is no need to be significantly concerned that they may fail to meet these Standards.

Most honey standards apply to honey from Apis mellifera.  Should any trader or packer wish to sell honey from another honey bee species it would be inappropriate to measure that honey against a standard for honey developed for Apis mellifera. This can be problematic.  For example, in the EU honey from Apis cerana would not meet the EU Honey Standard and the product would therefore be rejected as honey.

Food Safety

Food safety laws are designed and implemented to ensure that food which reaches a consumer will not cause them any harm.  Food safety laws exist in most countries and cover a whole host of issues such as the personal hygiene of factory staff and the correct temperature for storage of perishable foods.  However, all concern the avoidance of contaminants in the food product. Contaminants which must be avoided are chemical (such as residues from a toxic pesticide) biological (such as harmful bacteria) and physical (such as broken glass).

In the EU honey is classified as an animal product therefore legislation which applies to animal products, applies to honey.

European food safety legislation applicable to honey

There are a number of EC Directives and Regulations which concern honey click here for more detailed information.

The Regulation with the greatest implications for countries wishing to export their honey to the EU is Directive 96/23/EC.  This Directive determines that for a country to be eligible to export honey to the EU, it must be included in a list of 'third countries' which have shown that they are monitoring chemical residues. To achieve this it is necessary for countries to establish national monitoring systems for honey, for residues of antibiotics, sulphonamides, pesticides and heavy metals.  Residue Monitoring Plans (RMPs) which show how these residues are being monitored must be submitted annually to the EU for approval.

Any country that has not established a Residue Monitoring Plan is denied access to EU markets, even though chemical residues might not be a problem.  It is important to understand that because a country is denied access to the EU market as a result of this legislation this does not mean that their honey is of low quality - it means that the necessary procedures and paperwork have not been put in place to prove that the honey quality is being monitored regularly.

Producer groups and relevant government departments need technical awareness on how to set up cost effective monitoring schemes to meet the standard required by the legislation.  In smaller exporting countries these can take the form of an industry self-regulating scheme, organised and monitored by a competent authority acceptable to the EU.  It is not necessary for each exporting country to have its own laboratory for authentication and certification: only to establish an acceptable protocol and procedure for taking honey samples and submitting them to EU-accredited labs.

Further information about Residue Monitoring Plans


If a business wishes to export to the EU they must comply with the EU legislation and if exporting to USA, they must comply with USA legislation and so on. In some cases individual buyers e.g. a supermarket chain may have their own rules and requirements, in addition to international and national requirements.

Many countries have national standards and guidelines concerning proper handling, processing, storage and packaging of food.  These standards and regulations must be adhered to for all honey destined for both the local and export market.

External links 

Codex Alimentarius Commission click here

Codex Alimentarius Honey Standard

The EU Health and Consumer Protection directorate provides information about residue monitoring click here

The World Trade Organisation Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures click here

European Union Council Directive 96/23/EU click here

Information about importing honey into the UK click here

UK Importer Information Notes for honey click here

This text is from the EU Commission website

The evaluation and approval of residue monitoring plans from third countries:

"Third countries may only be approved for exporting certain food commodities to the EU on submission of a residues monitoring plan, covering each of these food commodities, which has been favourably evaluated by the European Commission services. Plans which are favourably evaluated by the European Commission are de facto deemed to offer guarantees equivalent to those provided for by Council Directive 96/23/EC for domestic production. The information from the evaluation is the basis for the formal approval of the plans by means of a Commission Decision. The information is published in Commission Decision 2004/432/EC which is regularly updated. Third countries listed in this Commission Decision are eligible to export those commodities for which they are listed to the EU, subject to animal and public health conditions."

(The Commission Decision pdf document is updated in June and October).

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  • Published Date October 2016
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