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Food: Commission proposes clearer rules on status of pollen in honey

A proposal to amend rules on honey1 to clarify the true nature of pollen following a European Court of Justice preliminary ruling2 was adopted recently by the European Commission. In line with international WTO standards, the proposal defines pollen as a natural constituent of honey and not as an ingredient.

The Court of Justice based its interpretation on the honey directive dating back to 2001 and qualified pollen as an ingredient in honey arguing that the pollen is found in honey mainly due to intervention by the beekeeper. However, the Commission proposal recognises that pollen is a natural constituent and not an ingredient of honey; it enters into the hive as a result of the activity of the bees and is found in honey regardless of whether the beekeeper intervenes. Consequently, since pollen is considered as a natural constituent of honey, EU labelling rules requiring a list of ingredients would not apply.

The Commission's proposal will not affect the conclusion of the Court as regards the application of the GMO legislation to GM pollen in food. In particular it does not alter the Court conclusion that honey containing GM pollen can be placed on the market only if it is covered by an authorisation under the legislation. Furthermore, the labelling rules on GMO in food will also be applicable3. The proposal also aims to align the existing Commission implementing powers in the Honey Directive 2001/110/EC with those introduced by the Lisbon Treaty.

The EU honey market in figures

The EU accounts for around 13% of global honey production (200,000 tonnes): Spain is the largest producer (33,000 tonnes), followed by Italy, Hungary and Romania (which each produce around 22,000 tonnes) and Portugal (21,000 tonnes). EU honey imports amount to around 140,000 tonnes and account for 40% of total EU consumption.


This issue arose in the context of a challenge by a German beekeeper on the legal status of honey when his honey was found to contain pollen of MON 810 genetically modified maize. The German Court referred the case to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling.

On 6 September 2011, the European Court of Justice issued its judgement where it indicated that: a) the previous understanding of the scope of GMO legislation was wrong (this legislation was fully applicable to GM pollen in honey) and b) that pollen in honey was to be considered as an ingredient.

For more information on case C-442/09:

Contacts :

Frédéric Vincent (+32 2 298 71 66)

Aikaterini Apostola (+32 2 298 76 24)

1 : Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2001/110/EC relating to Honey.

2 : Case C-442/09, Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber) of 6 September 2011 (reference for a preliminary ruling from the Bayerischer Verwaltungsgerichtshof (Germany)) — Karl Heinz Bablok and Others v. Freistaat Bayern, OJ C 311, 22.10.2011, p. 7. The national courts in each EU country are responsible for ensuring that EU law is properly applied in that country. To prevent different EU countries interpreting EU laws in different ways, a ‘preliminary ruling procedure’ exists which allows a national court, if in doubt about the interpretation or validity of an EU law, to ask the European Court of Justice for advice. This advice is called a ‘preliminary ruling’.

3 : Following Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003, the presence of material containing, consisting of produced from authorised GMOs in food shall be labelled except where that presence does not exceed 0,9% of each ingredient.

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