Does the FDA Think Honey has ‘Added Sugar’?

added sugar labelI just got off the phone. I was chatting with a buddy who lives in the USA. (I am in western Canada.) He tells me that the FDA is completely revising US label laws. In the near future, Calories will appear in big bold font on nutrition labels. And (something new), the FDA wants consumers to know how much added sugar is in the food they buy.

Maybe an ADDED SUGAR alert is a good thing. But it includes honey, which the FDA considers a sugar that consumers need alerted about. If honey roasted ham has 1% honey, the “Added Sugar” will be labeled as 1%. In the past, honey would have appeared in the list of ingredients and the calories per serving would reflect the bit of honey in the food. But the news gets worse.

Added sugar usually means ‘added by processing or manufacturing’ – therefore, fruits and vegetables are exempt, as are some sugars used in making jams, jellies, preserves, and fruit spreads.  Take a look at how the new guidelines define added sugar and see what’s missing:

“The definition of added sugars includes sugars that are either added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such, and include sugars (free, mono- and disaccharides), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices that are in excess of what would be expected from the same volume of 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice of the same type. The definition excludes fruit or vegetable juice concentrated from 100 percent fruit juice that is sold to consumers (e.g. frozen 100 percent fruit juice concentrate) as well as some sugars found in fruit and vegetable juices, jellies, jams, preserves, and fruit spreads.”

I’m sure that you noticed “honey” is not mentioned as an exempt food. But honey is not manufactured – bees make it in their hives. Honey has no added sugars, however, as things stand today, the new Nutrition Facts label would show that the “Added Sugars” in honey is 82% (the other 18% of honey is water).

I’m hoping that the new rules will be amended to exempt honey. My guess is that American beekeepers are talking to FDA rule-makers even as you read these words. But if this goes unchallenged, honey jars would need to list the natural sugars in honey as “added” sugars on every jar of honey sold.  To most consumers, this would imply honey is manufactured. Consumers would think that the natural fruit (fructose) and grape (glucose) sugars coming from nectar are somehow “added” at the packing shop. And that’s just simply wrong.  What do you think? Maybe I don’t have the story right – if you know more about this, weigh in with a comment or send me a note [miksha(at)] and I’ll add more to this blog piece.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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12 Responses to Does the FDA Think Honey has ‘Added Sugar’?

  1. Karen Pruiett says:

    This is so wrong! US beekeepers need to stop this now!


    • albert lucas says:

      This is typical in the USA, making things more complicated to confuse people, when it would be so simple by just showing the exact percentage of sugar and eliminate the word ADDED, unless extra sugar is added. I was at Trader Joe this evening and discovered that anomaly a few hours ago. I was reading the label : ADDED SUGAR 34%.
      Honey is a natural product made by the bees, no need to say anything else.
      The word ADDED must be eliminated that is all. Bees don’t add sugar into the honey, sugar is already in the honey created by their work.
      I’m glad I read this tonight.


  2. Nathanial Jones says:

    As a beekeeper, I agree that this is wrong. But since my day job requires me to enter ingredient and nutritional information into a recipe management system, I can see the argument for counting honey, other syrups and, presumably, dry sugars as added sugars up front.

    Most restaurant and home recipe management systems calculate the nutritional information of the recipe based on the proportions of the ingredients and their nutritional information and the number of servings. By making syrups and sugars count as added sugars up front, it means that restaurants that are sharing their nutritional information don’t have to enter two separate items into their database… One for serving the honey on the side and one for using the honey as an ingredient. It’s bad enough maintaining multiple variations of items because of random brand changes where no two brands use the same ingredients.

    Neither option is ideal and I think we, as beekeepers, can deal with the problem by embracing by adding “100% Natural Added Sugar” or something similar to the front of our bottles and jars.


    • Ron Miksha says:

      I understand your point – if we look at this from a scientific/nutritional/accounting perspective – but the sad reality is that most people are not well-informed about ingredients and label laws. Consumers are apt to see the words “Added Sugar” and assume that beekeepers added sugar to honey. That’s a very bad outcome from this label law. Honey is the work of bees, the product of flowers’ nectar, and beekeepers neither add nor subtract anything from it. Unfortunately, a lot of people already think that honey is manipulated or manufactured. This law will reinforce that misconception.


      • nathanialjones says:

        That is all true. In fact, my local club’s president did an informal conversational survey and found that many of the people he talked to would stop buying honey.

        All I was saying is that I can see both sides of the argument and neither is optimal.

        The best solution would be to hold recipe software companies accountable for providing a reasonable means to mark an ingredient as added sugar at the recipe level. This would allow sugar sweeteners to be exempt while allowing them to be added only once to the ingredient database. A simple checkbox for “added sugar” or “used for sweetening” on the ingredient line of the recipe would suffice.

        In the meantime, I stand by the suggestion that we attack the problem somehow by using our main labels, while the ABF, AHPA, EAS, HAS, WAS and all the state and local beekeeping organizations lobby and/or sue (maybe the FDA overstepped their bounds here) for an adequate change.


    • Terrence Baillargeon says:

      If honey is listed as sugar, the consumer will not know if they are getting honey or a composite product. The best way to address the situation is to legally disallow placing the word honey or its various sources on the label.
      The adulteration of a pure food such as honey must be disallowed to protect honey purists from this production fraud.


      • Ron Miksha says:

        Sorry, I can’t see how “legally disallowing placing the word honey” on the label would help customers know that they are buying honey. Could you expand on your thought? Thanks, Ron


  3. Jess says:

    Just saw this on a raw unfiltered 100% organic honey from wild beehives and was confused for a moment, but suspected it’s labeling bureaucracy nonsense, which doesn’t make any sense snd only confuses the consumer. They seriously need to rephrase that.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. albert lucas says:

    Absurd is the perfect word….Yesss


  5. Lawmanfive says:

    If you think this is bad go buy a light bulb….


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