HomeMarketsBreakfast directives, the European Parliament raises the barriers against non-EU honey

Breakfast directives, the European Parliament raises the barriers against non-EU honey

On 12 December 2023, the European Parliament in plenary session voted by a very large majority - 522 votes in favour, 13 against and 65 abstentions - on its report on the reform of the 'breakfast directives' which concern honey, fruit juices, jams and marmalades, milk dehydrated. (1)

1) 'Breakfast directives', the European Parliament's barriers against non-EU honey

The Strasbourg assembly has overturned the European Commission's proposal in the honey sector alone, erecting a series of technical barriers to the trade of bee nectar from outside the EU. With the clear objective, declared by the rapporteur Alexander Bernhuber (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP), of 'helping consumers make healthier and more local choices'. (2)

The hypothesis 'local honey = health' is also completely unproven. Indeed, paradoxically, the 'health' of the European honey supply chain is threatened by the recent boycott of the draft regulation for the reduction of pesticides in the EU, in Strasbourg on 22 November 2023, with the contribution of Alexander Bernhuber himself (3,4,5 ).

European consumers They thus risk facing a surge in prices and a drastic reduction in the supply of honey, including organic, arriving from various countries around the world. Due to the unjustified trade restrictions set out below, which are in addition to the registration duties of non-EU producers. (6) Protectionism, moreover, always affects the weakest.

2) Honey, origin labeling and discrimination

The origin labeling of honey claimed by MEPs is pretentious and complex, without precedent in European legislation or in that of other countries:

- 'the country or countries of origin, or where the honey was collected, must appear on the label there field of view of the product name' (recital 3).

- 'if the honey originates from more than one country, the countries of origin in which the honey was harvested must be indicated on the label descending order based on the share of each country of origin on the weight of honey contained in the package, specifying the exact percentage for each country or the applicable percentage range for the country's share' (new article 1.2.a),

- 'the percentage range' for the honey quota of each country in turn varies, depending on whether the package contains more or less than 30 g of honey (>90%, 70%-90%, 50%-70%, 30%-50% , 10%-30%, <10%, or >75%, 50%-75%, 25%-50%, <25%). Delirium (article 1.2, new paragraph ab). (7) And yet,

- when 'two or more countries together reflect at least 98% of the weight contained in the mixture, it is not necessary to indicate the countries of origin on the label for the residual quantities' (Article 1.2, new paragraph ac). In addition,

– if honey 'has been collected only in third countries or if third countries represent at least 75% of the countries of origin of the honeys of a mixture, 'this information must be clearly indicated on the front label labeled 'contains 75% or more non-EU honey' or 'non-EU honey'. Discrimination in the foreground (new article 1.2.a).

3) Non-EU honey, presumption of fraud

The MEPs of every political faction even aspire to declare, in a European regulation, a 'presumption of fraud' on honey produced by the European Union's trading partners. Recalling a report from the European Commission which - as we have seen (8) - is unscientific and discriminatory already in its premises, having among other things excluded a priori from considering European honey.

'The Commission's reports on honey counterfeiting " EU Coordinated Action From the Hives” and “EU Coordinated Action to Discourage Certain Fraudulent Practices in the Honey Sector” highlight that a high percentage of imported honey is suspected of being adulterated and confirm a number of cases of fraud in honey sector, including the use of sugar syrups which are very difficult to detect even with sophisticated analytical methods. (…)' (recital 3a).

4) Honey analysis criteria

The Honey Directive 2001/110/EC, it should be remembered, has delegated the European Commissionto establish appropriate analytical methods to ensure that honey marketed in the Union complies with the requirements of the legislation' (recital 3a). JRC (Joint Research Center, European Commission) has in fact acknowledged this need, precisely in the recent report 'From the Hives' (2023.), which proclaimed the discrepancy and unreliability of various analysis methods still in use in the various Member States . (8)

The European Parliament however - rather than underlining the need to establish harmonized analysis criteria in the EU for verifying the conformity of honey with the requirements of the directive - proposes to delegate the European Commission to an impossible mission, taking into account the extraordinary biodiversity (9) of the world's honeys ( and the consequent unavailability, at present, of a global database):

- 'the Commission shall adopt delegated acts [within 12 months of the date of entry into force of this Directive] to complement this Directive by establishing a harmonized methodology for determining the precise origin of honey. This methodology allows the competent authorities of the Member States to trace the country or countries of origin of the honey through laboratory analysis or any other method deemed appropriate' (new article 4a.1).

5) Honey traceability and official controls

'To limit as much as possible fraud linked to adulterated products that do not correspond to the denomination of "honey", to allow the validation of the information provided on the origin and quality of the honey and to guarantee maximum transparency, it is appropriate to integrate the rules of Union on traceability (…) by introducing a traceability system ensuring the availability of and access to essential information relating to the origin of honey or honey contained in a mixture, including the country of origin, year of production and unique manufacturer identifier, throughout the supply chain.

For honey produced and imported into the Union, the competent authorities of the Member States should be able to follow the entire supply chain up to the beekeepers who collected them or, in the case of imported honey, up to the producer. These rules should not increase the administrative burden on producers, but should make it easier for consumers and control authorities to follow the entire honey journey, from harvesting to bottling.

Every honey marketed under an identification other than that of the beekeeper is provided with an identification code linked to a traceability system which allows the competent authorities of the Member States to trace the entire supply chain of a given honey back to the beekeepers or operators of the collected in the case of imported honey. All the personal informations included in the traceability system will be accessible to consumers only with the consent of the producers of the batch or batches concerned. The traceability obligation referred to in this point does not apply to beekeepers with fewer than 150 hives' (new article 2.2b-bis).

'From 18 months from the date of entry into force of this Directive, the placing on the market of honey is subject to compliance with the traceability requirements referred to in this article. The competent authorities of the Member States carry out checks to verify that the honey comes from the country or countries indicated on the label. The competent authorities carry out regular, risk-based checks to establish whether the relevant products that the operator or trader has placed or intends to place on the market comply with this Directive' (new article 4a.2).

6) 'Filtered' and 'ultrafiltered' honey

'Ultrafiltered honey, indicated in Directive 2001/110/EC as "filtered honey", should no longer be authorized to be marketed and labeled as "honey". Ultrafiltration refers to filtration processes that use a filter mesh smaller than 100 µm, thus eliminating the majority of pollen from honey' (recital 3c).

'It is not allowed no significant change in pollen number or pollen spectrum of pollen smaller than 100 µm. Removal of honey components smaller than 100 µm is not permitted' (new Annex II.3).

It disappears vice versa any reference to the name and characteristics of 'filtered honey' (new article 2.2, first paragraph). Without prejudice to the possibility of designating 'raw honey' or 'virgin honey' (see paragraph 9 below).

7) 'Heated honey', heat treatments prohibited, reversed

'The heat treatment above 40°C (±5°C) causes degradation of some honey constituents and consumers should be able to distinguish between honeys that have been degraded by such heat treatments and other honeys. If the honey is processed at temperatures above 40°C (+- 5°C), the words “heated honey” must appear on the label. To control the absence of thermal degradation of honey, it is necessary to set a minimum threshold for the presence of invertase in honey, a much more sensitive enzyme that degrades very rapidly at high temperatures' (3d recital).

The invertase index (Gontarski unit) for 'unheated honey' – determined after processing and blending – must be 'generally, not less than 50 U/kg' and for 'honeys with a low content of natural enzymes, not less than 25 U/kg' (Annex II.3, new point 6a).

8) 'Immature' honeys, vacuum evaporation prohibited

'SBoth the definition of honey in Directive 2001/110/EC and that of the Codex Alimentarius clearly specify the work carried out by bees in the hive after having collected their harvest, which they transform by combining it with their own specific materials, deposit, dehydrate, store and leave to ripen in the honeycombs of the hive. Dehydration and ripening are operations performed by bees. Outside the Union, some countries accept that the work of bees is limited to collecting the nectar secretions of plants or honeydew in the production of honey. Unripe honeys produced in this way have a moisture content well above the 20% threshold established by Directive 2001/110/EC. Operators work with vacuum-heated vats to limit the boiling temperature of the water in the honey. However, this process degrades the final product, depleting its aromas and enzymes. Directive 2001/110/EC should therefore prohibit this vacuum evaporation process for honey' (recital 3 sexies).

'The marketing of honey not matured naturally by bees, mostly imported from third countries, distorts competition on the market of the Union. In most cases, this involves the evaporation under vacuum of the water contained in the honey, with a consequent impoverishment of the naturally present aromas. The rapid and artificial evaporation of water from honey competes with the slow dehumidification process carried out naturally by bees in the hive. Artificial evaporation should therefore be prohibited' (recital 3 septies).

9) 'Unheated honey', purity requirements

'Unheated honey is honey extracted from the honeycombs, decanted and then, if necessary, sieved. Honey so designated has not been heated in such a way that its enzymes and other heat-sensitive elements are degraded to such an extent that it no longer complies with the criteria set out in points 6 and 6a of Annex II' (new Annex I.2.b).

'When placed on the market as honey or used in any product intended for human consumption, honey must not contain any food ingredients, including food additives, nor anything other than honey. Honey must be free of organic or inorganic substances foreign to its composition.

With the exception of point 3 of Annex I, it must not have any foreign taste or odor, it must not have begun to ferment, it must not have artificially changed acidity or have been heated in such a way that natural enzymes have been destroyed or significantly inactivated , or have been exposed to evaporation under vacuum. Honey, when marketed as such or used in any product intended for human consumption, must comply with the compositional characteristics referred to in points 1 to 6. Furthermore, when marketed as "raw honey" or "virgin honey", must comply with the composition characteristics referred to in point 6a' (new Annex II.2).

10) Voluntary information on the honey label

The denominations of honey, other than honey for industrial use, may be completed by optional information on:

– floral or vegetal origin, if the product comes entirely or mainly from the indicated source and presents the organoleptic, physicochemical and microscopic characteristics of the indicated origin;

– regional, territorial or topographical origin, if the product comes entirely from the indicated source;

– specific quality criteria (Article 1.1.2).

The packaging, containers for bulk transport, and sales documents for honey intended for industrial uses 'must clearly indicate the full name of the product, as indicated in point 3 of Annex I' (new article 3).

11) ISO, European political direction for the work underway

ISO – International Standard Organization – as we have seen, is preparing to define the ISO/CD 24607 standard, relating to the specifications of honey produced by bees of the Apis species and intended for direct consumption, including honey in containers intended for packaging, as well as honey intended for industrial use. (10)

'The definition of honey, established in Directive 2001/110/EC, should be defended by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), to avoid a definition that would allow low-cost products to be exported under the name of "honey", to the detriment of quality and stability of the Union honey market and consumer confidence in Union products' (recital 3g).

12) 'Breakfast directives', other products

Attention addressed by the European Parliament to fruit juices, jams and dehydrated milk - the other EU directives that belong to the group of 'breakfast directives' is instead minimal. As demonstrated by the almost total absence of amendments in these regards, compared to the proposals formulated by the European Commission and already examined in the previous article to which reference is made. (1) Below, a brief mention of the few 'cosmetic' amendments proposed by the Strasbourg assembly.

12.1) Fruit juices

'Consuming too many free sugars or non-sugar sweeteners is linked to negative health effects. Products such as processed juices or nectars that promote reduced sugar levels are often not a healthier option than products with natural sugars or no added sugars and are not suitable as replacements for fresh fruits or vegetables. (…) By 31 December 2024, the Commission will have to present a proposal for the revision of Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council to better inform consumers about the presence and quantity of free and added sugars in a product' (recital 5).

'Any form of sugar or additional sweetener, natural or artificial, should be strictly prohibited in fruit juices' (recital 9). A rather uncertain concept, given the widespread use of concentrated juices whose function, whether primary or secondary, is still to sweeten fruit juices.

'The country of origin of the fruit used to make the juice is indicated on the front label. If the fruit used originates from more than one country, the countries of origin are indicated on the label in decreasing order according to their proportion in the fruit juice' (Article 3.1.ba).

12.2) Jams, marmalades, jellies and chestnut puree

'All components must be indicated on the label and a reduction in sugar content must not be compensated for sweeteners' (recital 16).

'It is appropriate to review the rules relating to jams, jellies, marmalades and sweetened chestnut purees and provide that the country or Countries of origin of the fruits used to obtain these products are indicated in descending order and with the respective percentages on the package' (recital 16a).

13) Transitional period

'It is necessary to establish a transposition period of 12 months [instead of 18, as proposed by the Commission, ed.]. To allow operators to have sufficient time to adapt to the new requirements, national provisions transposing this Directive should only apply from 18 months onwards [instead of 24, ed.] after the date of entry into force thereof'.

14) Provisional conclusions

The amendments proposed by the European Parliament for the reform project of the 'breakfast directives' are now sent to the AGRIFISH Council - in which the agriculture ministers of the member states participate - for negotiations on the final text, in which the European Commission also participates, within the trilogue.

The over-regulation hypothesised in Strasbourg exposes all operators in the honey supply chain - beekeepers, producers, importers and traders, packagers - to significant investments which will inevitably lead to an increase in consumer prices, in a historical period already afflicted by out-of-control food inflation.

The technical barriers to trade - unjustified by any need to protect public health or the environment - also expose the European Union to the serious risk of disputes within the WTO (World Trade Organization). As well as with the many countries that have signed free trade agreements with the EU, such as New Zealand.

Dario Dongo


(1) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei. Honey, fruit juices, jams and marmalades, dehydrated milk. Proposals for the reform of marketing standards in the EU. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(2) 'Breakfast directives': MEPs want clearer labeling of honey, fruit juice, jam. European Parliament. Press release. 12.12.23 http://tinyurl.com/h9k8hw83

(3) Alexander Bernhuber, Viewpoint: Global policy analyst on why Europe's goal to reduce pesticide use by 50% is dangerously misguided. Bauern Zeitung. 19.8.22 http://tinyurl.com/65nbwadf

(4) Dubious claims on the SUR undermine serious political debate on pesticide reduction. Save the bees and the farmers. http://tinyurl.com/2mvk8234

(5) Dario Dongo. No to reducing pesticides, yes to glyphosate. ToxicEurope. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(6) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Import of products of animal origin and composite products, the new EU rules. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(7) The labels of single-dose honey packages (up to 30 g) may mention the countries of origin with the ISO 3166 alpha-2 country code (article 1.2, new paragraph ab)

(8) Dario Dongo. Imported honey from outside the EU, the ambiguous report of the European Commission. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(9) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Miele, a universe to discover. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(10) See article cited in note 9, paragraph 7. See also Dario Dongo. Miele, work on an ISO standard begins. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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