Just because it says “honey” on the label doesn’t mean that a bee would have anything to do with it.

Today’s grocery shelves are full of imported honey that is little more than sugar gel – and lacks many of the key elements of what makes honey the stuff that honeybees thrive on.

For years, honey has been believed to provide nature’s own immunotherapy. In normal immunotherapy, the allergic person is exposed to minute amount of the allergy-causing protein, usually in the form of an injection. The idea is that if a person is allergic to pollen, then some of the allergy-causing proteins will be in the honey.

If you eat local, raw honey everyday, you expose yourself to a small amount of the local pollens and this is supposed to sensitize you to that pollen’s proteins.

However, imported honey – such as from China or India– has no local pollen. And according to a recent study, often imported honey has no pollen at all – and may be packed with pollutants and antibiotics.

In other words, all the good stuff has been filtered out, leaving only bad stuff plus sugar.

Texas A&M Universityprofessor Vaughn Bryant is the nation’s premier melissopalynologist – someone who studies sweet pollens. Food and Safety News asked him to look into reports that commercial honey manufacturers are taking all of the pollen out of their honey.

“Once you take the pollen out, you don’t know two things: The first thing you do not know is where the honey was produced, and the

second thing you do not know is exactly what flowers the bees were utilizing in order to produce the honey,” Bryant told them.

“That would make it easier forChinato dump honey into the United Statesmarket,” reports Bruce Gellerman for Public Radio International. “There’s supposed to be a large tariff on Chinese honey to discourage dumping, but they’ve tried to work around that by exporting the honey to other markets, which then send it onto theUnited States.

“The American Beekeeping Federation and the National Honey Board and others have consistently requested the federal government to enforce some kind of a truth-in-the-labeling,” Bryant said. “But the federal government has been dragging their feet for years.”

Many other countries and the European Union already require that sort of labeling, reports Gellerman.

“In theUnited States, the only requirements are that you not add water or sugar and that you remove any bee parts that are in the honey. Do that and it can be sold as honey. But by removing the pollen, perfectly legal in theUnited States, you’re also removing the only nutrient in the honey, Bryant told Food and Safety News..

“You take the pollen out, the only thing you’ve got is sugar,” he said. “The pollen does in fact contain amino acids, it contains starches, it also contains fats and vitamins and various kinds of minerals. A lot of people eat honey because of the nutritional value.”

In his study, Bryant found was that most discount and convenience store chains are selling honey that has no pollen. So are the big grocery chains.

“Buyer beware, because most of what you buy in the store, in terms of honey, is not what the label says,” Bryant said. “One of the things that we’ve discovered, not only can we not tell where the stuff comes from, but premium honey that’s being sold like buckwheat or orange blossom or sage or thyme honey – and people were willing to pay premium prices for this very exotic types of honey – we can’t confirm that any of that stuff is actually coming from those plants.”

The only way consumers can make sure they’re getting real honey with the maximum pollen benefits is to buy locally, Bryant said.

The best thing to do is to find a local beekeeper and buy it directly from him – cutting out the expensive “organic” grocery stores.

“This commercial stuff isn’t honey,” Bryant said.

Plastic honey bears

In fact, reports Andrew Schneider at Food Safety News, more than three-fourths of the honey sold inU.S. grocery stores isn’t technically honey.

“The removal of these microscopic particles from deep within a flower would make the nectar flunk the quality standards set by most of the world’s food safety agencies,” writes Schneider.

“In theU.S., the Food and Drug Administration says that any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey. However, the FDA isn’t checking honey sold here to see if it contains pollen.”

Ultra-filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters, reported Food Safety News.