WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Honey mixed with sugar might be sweet, but it is not "honey."
Food companies and other producers who add sweeteners to honey have to alert consumers by labeling their products as a "blend," the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday.
Only manufactures that do not add sugar, corn syrup or other sweeteners should label their products as pure "honey," the FDA said in draft guidelines posted online.
The proposal aims "to advise the regulated food industry on the proper labeling of honey and honey products to help ensure that honey and honey products are not adulterated or misbranded," the agency wrote.
Americans consume more than 400 million pounds of honey each year, according to U.S. government and industry estimates. But just 149 million pounds were produced in the United States last year, U.S. Department of Agriculture data showed.
To feed America's sweet tooth, much honey is imported, and U.S. producers are worried about cheap substitutes.
Pure honey is generally more expensive than those mixed with corn syrup and traditional sugar, and prices reached a record high of $2.12 a pound last year, according to the USDA.
The FDA's review follows a petition from the American Beekeeping Federation and several other related groups seeking a standard U.S. definition for the natural sweetener to promote fair trade.
While the agency rejected their request, it said it was willing to look at labeling.
The FDA inspected imported honey to see whether it had been "adulterated" with corn or cane sugars. In recent decades, it detained honey containing such substitutes from countries such as Brazil and Mexico, according to the agency.
Manufacturers have 60 days to comment on the proposal before final guidelines are issued. Even then, however, guidelines are not mandatory.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Dan Grebler)