The True Source Honey initiative, a nonprofit organization, began certifying honey in 2011. Its claim, “True Source Certified,” is available to honey suppliers, packers, importers, exporters and beekeepers to help promote pure, traceable honey in the marketplace. In September 2018, Honey Stinger, Droga Chocolates and Unilever’s Hellmann’s became the first packaged products to carry the new “Made with True Source Honey” claim.
Here, Steve Taormina, business unit manager for NSF International’s Consumer Values Verified Program, and Gordon Marks, executive director at True Source Honey, shed light on the differences between the certifications and why a finished product version was needed.
What’s the difference between the two certifications?
Steve Taormina: True Source Honey certification combines rigorous third-party audits with active third-party sampling and container shipment oversight to trace honey to its origin. It entails beekeeper, exporter and honey-packer audits to verify the authenticity of the honey sources. About 30 percent of honey sold in North America is now True Source Certified. The “Made With True Source Honey™” certification program involves an audit to verify that only certified True Source Honey is being used in the multi-ingredient products.
Why was it necessary to create a certification like this for consumer goods?
ST: Expanding to “Made With True Source Honey” allows food companies and brands to distinguish that their products use True Source Certified Honey. The True Source Honey certification helps the entire honey supply chain, from beekeeper to manufacturer, demonstrate their commitment to responsible honey sourcing. This can also help both domestic and international honest beekeepers compete with inexpensive imported honey of questionable quality and origin.
How is consumer understanding of this seal so far?
ST: I’m not aware of other honey certifications currently on labels. Consumers will naturally understand the True Source Honey seal as demonstrating a brand’s commitment to pure, traceable honey. Awareness is building as major brands roll out certified products.
Why is honey such a hot button-issue for consumers right now?
Gordon Marks: A few years ago, honey was involved in one of the largest food fraud cases in the United States. Despite federal crackdowns, millions of pounds of illegally sourced honey (and honey of questionable quality) may still be entering the United States. Most suppliers are honest, but some honey enters the United States in circumvention of trade laws, avoiding quality and safety assurances as well. This threatens the honey industry by undercutting fair market prices and damaging honey's reputation for quality and safety. Consumers deserve pure honey -- a product of honey bees, nothing added and nothing taken away. When you don’t know the origin of the honey, it’s difficult to be assured of its quality.
How might this seal help shoppers make better decisions at retail?
ST: Unfortunately, food fraud or adulteration is always a major consumer issue for not only honey, but for seafood, olive oil and other ingredients. Consumers want to trust that the products they are buying for themselves, their families and kids are truthfully labeled. The best way to make an educated decision on the products you purchase is to look for independent third-party certification. The certification mark verifies that the product is what it claims to be and has met relevant quality and country of origin standards.