East Lothian Beekeepers

New Honey Regulations.

The following is an extract from the BBKA News relating to the new regulations regarding the preparation and marketing of honey. It is important that we maintain the highest standards in both if we are to retain the right to sell honey either from the door or through a retailer. Trading standards officers are prepared to take action , with or without a complaint, and fines can reach £5,000. If anyone wishes to see the detailed regulations please contact the webmaster.

I appreciate that it is long and detailed but there is a summary of the changes art the end.


Text Box:  The Honey Regulations 2003 Labelling


The Honey Regulations came into force on 25.9.03. Labels placed on jars from 1.8.04 will have to comply. In the case of non-compliant labels, it would be necessary to prove the jar was labelled before 1.8.04 and that the label complied with the earlier requirements.

The honey label must comply with four sets of Regulations, The Honey ( England ) Regulations 2003, S.I. 2243 or the corresponding Regulations for Scotland , Wales or Northern Ireland if labelled there, The Food Labelling Regulations 1996, S.I. 1499, The Food (Lot Marking) Regulations 1996, S.I. 1502 and the Weights and Measures requirements. The Regulations around these last are rather complicated and are dealt with below.

The Food Standards Agency have produced guidance notes which can be found at www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/honeyguide to help provide informal, non-statutory advice and clarify some of the requirements in the Regulations. Their guidance is general and does not seek to cover every possible issue. This article attempts to answer some additional points that have been raised or come to light but it must be remembered that only a court can decide if there has been an infringement of the Regulations. They are enforced by local authorities. You may be able to obtain written confirmation from your local trading standards or environmental health department that in their opinion your label complies, in which case criticism of it becomes less likely.

The Honey Regulations give rise to two major changes. Firstly, there are differences between these Regulations and those of 1976, for example, the hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) limit is lowered to 40 mg/kg (except for honey from tropical climates) and 'apparent reducing sugars' has been replaced by (fructose + glucose) with a lower limit of 60% by weight. Secondly, and most importantly from the point of view of labelling, the Regulations make honey subject to all the requirements of the Food Labelling Regulations of 1996; previously it was exempt from Part II.

The Food Labelling Regulations
The following are relevant.

General Labelling Requirement

Regulation 5.

'Subject to the following provisions of this Part [II] of these Regulations, all food to which this Part of these Regulations applies shall be marked or labelled with-

(a) the name of the food;

(b) a list of ingredients;

(c) the appropriate durability indication;

(d) any special storage conditions or conditions of use;

(e) the name or business name and an address or registered office of either or both of-

(i) the manufacturer or packer

(ii) a seller established within the European Community;

(f) particulars of the place of origin or provenance of the food if failure to give such particulars might mislead a purchaser to a material degree as to the true origin or provenance of the food; and

(g) instructions for use if it would be difficult to make appropriate use of the food in the absence of such instructions'.

Name prescribed by law

Regulation 6.

– (1) If there is a name prescribed by law for a food, that is to say if a particular name is required to be used for the food, that name shall be used as the name of the food.

(2) [not relevant]

(3) A name that is required to be used for a food by paragraph (1) of this regulation may be qualified by other words which make it more precise.

Regulations 23

Food which is not prepacked and similar food, and fancy confectionary products.

(1) This regulation applies to –

(a) food which is –

(i) not prepacked, or

(ii) prepacked for direct sale,

other than any such food to which regulation 27 applies;

(b) [not relevant]

(c) [not relevant]

(2) Subject to paragraph (3) of this regulation, food to which this regulation applies need not be marked or labelled with any of the particulars specified in regulation 5 except

(a) the name of the food

(b) [not relevant]


(3) Food to which this regulation applies which has not been irradiated and which is –

(a) not exposed for sale, or

(b) [not relevant]

(c) [not relevant]

need not be marked or labelled with any of the particulars specified in regulation 5.

‘Prepacked for direct sale' means prepacked by a retailer for sale by him on the premises where the food is packed or from a vehicle or stall used by him. There seems to be no requirement for the retailer to be physically present so a side bar in the local pub with a few jars of honey on it might constitute a ‘stall'. The underlying purpose is that the retailer is readily identifiable and in the case of honey sold directly will normally be a producer/retailer with no intermediaries. Thus there are reduced requirements for a beekeeper selling only from his gate but one who also sells via retailers may find it preferable to have all the requirements on the label to avoid having two labels.

Regulation 27

exempts from regulation 5 food sold in a catering establishment and which is either not prepacked or prepacked for direct sale.

Regulation 36

then stipulates that if regulations 23 or 27 apply to the food then the requirements of the regulations, which for honey is just the name, must be on a label or on a menu, notice, ticket or label that is readily discernible by an intending purchaser at the place where he chooses that food.

Regulation 35

Manner of marking or labelling; General Requirement,

‘When any food ….is sold, the particulars with which it is required to be marked or labelled by these Regulations shall appear-

(a) on the packaging, or

(b) on a label attached to the packaging, or

(c) on a label that is clearly visible through the packaging,

save that where the sale is otherwise than to the ultimate consumer such particulars may, alternatively, appear only on the commercial documents relating to the food where it can be guaranteed that such documents, containing all such particulars, either accompany the food to which they relate or were sent before, or at the same time as, delivery of the food, and provided always that the particulars required by Regulation 5(a), (c) and (e) shall also be marked or labelled on the outermost packaging in which that food is sold'.

Regulation 38.


‘(1) The particulars with which a food is required to be marked or labelled by these Regulations, or which appear on a menu, notice, ticket or label pursuant to these Regulations, shall be easy to understand, clearly legible and indelible and, when a food is sold to the ultimate consumer, the said particulars shall be marked in a conspicuous place in such a way as to be easily visible.

(2) Such particulars shall not in any way be hidden, obscured or interrupted by any other written or pictorial matter.

(3) Paragraph (1) of this regulation shall not be taken to preclude the giving of such particulars at a catering establishment, in respect of foods the variety and type of which are changed regularly, by means of temporary media ( including the use of chalk on a blackboard)'.

Regulation 39

Field of Vision

‘(1) Where a food is required to be marked or labelled with more than one of the following indications, such indications shall appear in the labelling of the food in the same field of vision –

(a) the name of the food

(b) an appropriate durability indication,

(c) [not relevant]

(d) [not relevant]

(e) [not relevant]

(f) an indication of the net quantity as required by the Weights and Measures Act 1985 or by any Order or Regulations made thereunder'.

Small packages are exempt from (b), (c) and (f). In the case of 9f) this is 5 g.

The Honey Regulations
The new Honey Regulations state:-

‘Labelling and description of specified honey products

4 (1) Without prejudice to the generality of Part II of the 1996 [Food Labelling] Regulations, no person shall sell any specified honey product unless it is marked or labelled with the following particulars –

(a) a reserved description of the product;

(b) in the case of baker's honey the words “intended for cooking only” which words shall appear on the label in close proximity to the product name;

(c) the country or countries of origin where the honey has been harvested save that if the honey originates in more than one Member State or third country the country of origin may be replaced with one of the following as appropriate –

(i) “blend of EC honeys”,

(ii) “blend of non-EC honeys”,

(iii) “blend of EC and non-EC honeys”;

4 (2) No person shall sell any filtered honey or baker's honey which is marked or labelled with information relating to floral or vegetable origin, regional, territorial or topographical origin or specific quality criteria.

4 (3) Where pursuant to note 2 of Schedule 1, the reserved description “honey” has been used in the product name of a compound foodstuff containing baker's honey, no person shall sell such a compound foodstuff unless the list of ingredients includes the term “baker's honey”'.

Note 2 of Schedule 1 allows honey to be used in the name of a food in which baker's honey is an ingredient.

5 (1) No person shall sell any filtered honey or baker's honey in bulk containers or packs unless such bulk containers and packs are labelled with their respective reserved description of the product and any trade documents clearly indicate the reserved description of the product.

For the purpose of this paragraph trade documents includes all documents relating to the sale, transportation, storage or delivery of the product.

‘Manner of Marking or Labelling.

6. Regulations 35, 36(1) and (5) and 38 of the 1996 Regulations (which relate to the manner of marking or labelling of food) shall apply to the particulars with which a specified honey product is required to be marked or labelled by regulations 4 (1)(a) to (c) and (3) of these Regulations as if they were particulars with which a food is required to be marked or labelled by the 1996 Regulations'.

Weights and Measures
The legislation is pretty complicated because the Weights and Measures Act 1985, The Weights and Measures (Packaged Goods) Regulations 1986, S.I. 2049, The Weights and Measures (Quantity Marking and Abbreviation of Units Regulations 1987, S.I. 1538 and The Weights and Measures (Miscellaneous Foods) Order 1988, S.I. 2040 have been amended by The Units of Measurement Regulations 1994, S.I. 2867, The Weights and Measures Act 1985 (Metrication) (Amendment) Order 1994, S.I. 2866 and The Weights and Measures (Packaged Goods and Quantity Marking and Abbreviation of Units (Amendment) Regulations 1994, S.I. 1852. However, the end result is fairly straightforward.

The Food ( Lot Marking) Regulations
This is S.I. 1502 of 1996. A lot means a batch of sales units of food produced, manufactured or packaged under similar conditions. Thus it is not a very narrowly defined quantity. However, the danger of regarding too large a quantity as one lot is that if anything was found wrong, the entire lot would have to be withdrawn from sale. The lot marking indication must be on a label or on the packaging, easily visible, clearly legible and indelible. It must be preceded by the letter L except where it is clearly distinguishable from the other indications on the label or packaging. The usual way of avoiding the need for a separate lot number is to use the best before date as a lot number. But this must be at least an uncoded day and month in that order.

Interpretation and Comment
So what does a label look like when these regulations are put together?

1. Scope of the Honey Regulations

It is important to note that the Honey Regulations lay down rules for products which fall within the scope of those Regulations. Products which do not meet the Regulations are not prevented from being sold or marketed; they just cannot be called honey or any of the reserved descriptions covered by the Regulations.

Note that the Scope of the Regulations covers only specified honey products, intended for human consumption and ready for delivery to the ultimate consumer or a catering establishment. This means that samples may be taken at Port Health for antibiotic residues and other tests under other Regulations, but in the event that it was found that a bulk import did not comply with one of the compositional requirements like acidity, water or HMF, the Port Health would have no powers to delay entry. It also means that those supplying honey as an ingredient to breakfast cereal manufacturers, etc. no longer have to worry about trading standards finding high HMF levels. Such honey does not have to be sold as ‘baker's honey'. However, the seller would have to be in a position to prove that he had no intention of bottling the honey.

2. Reserved Descriptions

The label can describe the food in the jar as 'honey' if it is blossom or nectar honey, honeydew, drained honey, pressed honey or extracted honey. (The Regulations are in error on this point and will be amended shortly). Comb, cut comb, filtered and baker's honey must comply with the reserved description requirements of Schedule 1, in other words must be as described.

3. Country of origin

If the honey is from one of the four countries in the UK , the country of origin must be stated as UK , easily done by putting ‘ UK ' at the end of the address. The name and address of the packer or seller must be on the label (except direct sales, q.v.). A more specific location may be included in the product name such as ‘local English', ‘Welsh', ‘Hampshire'. The country of origin and a more specific location can be put anywhere on the label.

If the honey is a blend from different countries the labelling of blends kicks in. The phrases ‘blend of EC honeys' etc. are invariable. For example, ‘blend' cannot be replaced by another word.

The Directive actually says, where a honey originates in more than one country, the countries of origin may be replaced by the ‘blend' phrases, so if a full list of countries is given, the ‘blend' phrases need not be used. If they are used, the full list of countries may also be given.

It is very difficult to give precise guidelines on the requirement to give the place of origin if failure to do so might mislead. 'To a material degree' is very much a matter of judgment. Misuse of the word 'local' might give rise to dispute. Bees have been recorded flying up to nine miles, although very unusual.

4. Floral, etc., source

The label may describe the honey from a floral source if wholly or mainly from that source and from a regional, territorial or topographical origin if entirely from that source. This makes it illegal to describe a honey in its product name as 'clover and bramble honey' but reference could be made to the floral sources on another part of the label, e.g. 'from bees visiting clover and brambles'. It is not correct to attribute a specific percentage to the meaning of ‘mainly' although it will generally be over 50%. This may not be reflected in the pollen count as pollens can be over- and under-represented.

5. List of ingredients

Honey does not need a list of ingredients because it is a single ingredient food.

6 Declaration of durability

Honey lasts for years but an appropriate durability or 'best before' date must be given. Eighteen months is commonly used because it will almost certainly have been sold and eaten in that time. The clock starts when the honey is packed into a retail container which is not very logical as it may have been waiting to be extracted or processed for a long time. The date must be in the same field of view as the name. The usual device of 'see lid' or 'see base' placed in the same field of view as the name can be used. The minimum durability statement must be in the form ‘best before' followed by a day, month and year or ‘best before end' followed by a month and year for a food with a shelflife of 3 to 18 months. The ‘best before' date must consist of at least the uncoded indication of the day and month in that order if the person devising the label wishes to avoid putting on a lot number. ‘Best before end' has to be followed only by the year for foods with a shelflife longer than 18 months, which is in fact the case for honey and may be the durability indication preferred by a retailer. Clearly, best before end' cannot be used without a lot number as well.

7. Storage conditions

Honey does not require any special storage conditions. Some advice could be given if the seller was, for example, selling a liquid honey and wanted to say what to do if crystals appeared. Someone suggested adding ‘Store in a cool, dark place' but that is not necessary. ‘Store at ambient temperature' is reasonable but unnecessary.

8. Instructions for use

There is no need to give instructions for use. But the members of the Honey Association put on a voluntary warning about feeding to infants under twelve months which is supported by the Food Standards Agency. This is due to the very low risk of infant botulism. Botulinum spores can occur in any honey and it is reasonable to warn parents about this possibility even if it is unlikely to occur. Clearly there is no mandatory requirement but the warning is sensible practice.

9. Field of view

The name, durability and weight must all be in the same field of view, easy to understand, clearly legible and indelible and uncluttered by any other written or pictorial material. ‘Intended for cooking only' has to be in close proximity to the name in the case of baker's honey. Only a reserved description from Schedule 1 (blossom honey, nectar honey, honeydew honey, comb honey, chunk honey, cut comb in honey, drained honey, extracted honey, pressed honey, filtered honey and baker's honey) or just plain ‘honey', the durability indication and the weight and e mark (if used) have to be in the same field of view. But in the case of baker's honey, ‘intended for cooking only' must appear in close proximity to the name, so effectively in the same field of view. The ‘blend of' statement can be elsewhere on the label. Save for baker's honey and filtered honey, the only information required is that mentioned above.

10. Fresh, Pure and Natural

The Food Advisory Committee reported on the use of these terms in 2001. The use of ‘fresh' would be a judgment for the beekeeper if he wished to emphasise that the honey was recently produced. Terms such as ‘pure refined honey' and ‘natural' may be applied to honey, although exception could be taken if the honey were derived from a GM crop.

11. Filtered Honey

This is honey obtained by removing foreign inorganic or organic matters in such a way as to result in the significant removal of pollen. ‘Significant' is not defined in the Directive and ultimately any dispute would have to be decided by the court. It varies with the floral origin of the honey because pollen sizes vary. Most UK honey is derived from sources with pollen grains less than 50 microns and mostly less than 30 microns. The mouth can detect particles over about 70 microns. Filters do not exclude only those particles larger than the nominal size of the filter because of the mechanics of the operation. In practical terms, filtering through a mesh of about 100 microns is probably reasonable and unlikely to give rise to the requirement to describe the honey as filtered. It would be very difficult to establish the evidence unless a filter was used that was fine enough to remove most of the pollen.

12. Weight declaration.

The weight declaration must be in the metric equivalents of the weights permitted by The Weights and Measures (Miscellaneous Foods) Order 1988, namely, 57g, 113g, 227g, 340g, 454g, 680g or a multiple of 454g. Imperial units can be added after the metric ones but must not be in larger type and there must be no other print between them. As food produced legally in one member state can be sold legally in another, imported packed honey may have other weights.

13. Type requirements

The abbreviation for gram is g and for kilogram is kg. An s must not be added. There must be one type space between the numerical value and the unit or its abbreviation. The lettering must be 3mm high for weights between 50 and 200g, 4mm high for weights between 200g and a kg and 6mm high for greater weights. No abbreviation of ‘net' is permitted.

Only the weight declaration and the average weight symbol have to be a certain size, as these are under weights and measures legislation. The criterion for the size of all the other statutory information is that it must be easy to understand, clearly legible, indelible, not interrupted by other written or pictorial matter and in a conspicuous place such as to be easily visible.

14. Pre-packed for direct sale

Honey sold ‘at the beekeeper's gate' has to have on the label only the word ‘honey' or a reserved description where that is mandatory, and the country of origin. This relaxation also applies to sales at farmer's markets. The Honey Regulations apply to honey for direct sale, including Regulation 4 (q. supra) which stipulates the labelling needed for baker's honey, for example.

15 Average quantity

Packing to average weight invokes the Weights and Measures (Packaged Goods) Regulations 1986. Packed honey has generally been produced by a beekeeper who will not be using average weight or a packer who will use it and be well aware of the requirements. If anyone needs full details, they should discuss it with the local trading standards department.

The e sign must be there if average weight packaging has been followed and it is intended to export to another member state. It must be of the correct design, at least 3mm high, indelible, legible and visible.

Summing Up

The label must show the name, the best before date and the weight in the same field of view. Type referring to weight has size requirements but the rest just has to be clearly legible and indelible, also uncluttered. Just the name and country of origin is enough if for direct sale. There are still prescribed weights. The names in the Honey Regulations have to be used in order to comply with the Labelling Regulations. The packer's or seller's name and address must be on the label.

Peter Martin February 2004