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Europe's leading honey producer accused of 'Frenchwashing' over its label

Jars filled with freshly harvested honey from backyard beehives are seen in Piedmont, Calif., on Saturday, July 3, 2010.
Jars filled with freshly harvested honey from backyard beehives are seen in Piedmont, Calif., on Saturday, July 3, 2010. Copyright Paul Chinn/San Francisco Chronicle
Copyright Paul Chinn/San Francisco Chronicle
By Vincent Vitis
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Famille Michaud Apiculteurs is accused of misleading its customers by failing to label certain jars clearly enough and potentially giving a false impression that the honey is entirely French.

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Europe's leading honey producer, the Famille Michaud Apiculteurs group, is being accused by western Europe's oldest consumer association of selling its honey as wholly French when, in reality, it comes from other countries, including outside Europe.

UFC-Que Choisir said on Wednesday that it had made a complaint to the Paris Court of Justice against Famille Michaud Apiculteurs, accusing it of "misleading commercial practices" when it comes to the origin of its honey. 

Honey seems to be a multi-blended product

The consumer association investigated honey on sale in supermarkets and found that jars that appeared to be French were partly or wholly foreign.

"On several products, the mention of the company's French origin as well as the Pyrenean location where the honey is put into jars is over-emphasised on the packaging and the lid", UFC-Que Choisir said in a press release.

 The honey came from Hungary, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Spain or sometimes even Argentina or Vietnam, it added.

 "The exact origin of the products is also often relegated to a small print on the back of the jars or even on the cap, using abbreviations that are sometimes difficult to understand," it concluded.

Other products used the words "miel de nos terroirs", (honey from our land) depicted with a drawing similar to a French village, as well as a map of France on the lid. The honey was partly harvested in Spain.

When the law joins public opinion

The French group has been defending itself against accusations from the public and associations for several months. During the French farmers' strike earlier this year, when demonstrators blocked motorways, several of them intercepted a lorry in the Bouches-du-Rhône region. The images of the cargo of barrels of Ukrainian honey destined for the French company had already aroused public concern.

Managing director Marie Lecal-Michaud told AFP at the time: "We do our utmost to market French honey every year.  But it's the consumer who makes the final decision and we find it hard to sell French honey in supermarkets."

Justifications that failed to convince

Since the criticism at the beginning of the year, the group has also been careful to respond to all these questions and accusations on its official website, claiming to prefer French honey but having to deal with a drop in local production "over the past 20 years, from 32,000 tonnes in 1995 to less than 10,000 tonnes in 2014".

It also explains that honey is selected according to production capacity, the country's flower types and quality.

Responding to the claims against it, the company said: "It's true, that we are transparent about the origins we offer through our different brands. If a jar of honey indicates a French origin, you'll have a French honey. You can find this information on the front or back of the jars."

However,  UFC-Que Choisir was not happy with the explanation, saying the company, created in 1920 in Béarn at the foot of the Pyrenees, was cheating on a 2022 obligation to indicate all countries of origin in a blend of honey packaged in France. The European Union will be introducing a similar measure to France over the next few years.

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