In late April this year, Andrew Schneider (who reported last year on smuggled and laundered honey when writing for the Seattle PI), and now writes for AOL, reported on a secret meeting held in Chicago about smuggled and laundered honey. Those attending the meeting represented:
"The objective of the meeting will be a frank discussion of issues affecting the domestic honey industry, primarily transshipment of foreign honey and adulteration of honey," Schneider reported, from a note to participants.
We've reported here several times about this problem and the effect it has had on the beekeeping industry. Our opinion is that cheap, illegal, adulterated foreign honey competing with more costly U.S. produced American honey has been one more stress on an industry perilously close to the brink for several years. This near collapse has been due to a long stretch of bad weather, poor crops, new diseases, Colony Collapse Disorder, lost farm land and an avalanche of new agricultural pesticides attacking honey bees on all fronts.
But now, interestingly, U.S. honey packers are feeling the pinch of cheap, illegal, adulterated foreign honey that some felt needed fixing. Between the lines, it's pretty clear that it has come down to the simple parameter of price. The honey market has, according to Ron Phipps, President and founder of CPNA International, Ltd, an importer of honey, tea and natural foods, and Secretary-Treasurer of the National Honey Packers and Dealers Association, come to the point of being two-tiered. One tier, according to Phipps, is composed of honey packers conducting ethical business and buying imported honey only from exporters who follow the rules. This is expensive honey. The second tier is composed of honey packers who purchase honey from exporters who do not follow the rules. This is cheap honey. And it isn't fair, according to Phipps.
After the meeting a new organization, HonestHoney, was formed as.... "an effort by a number of honey companies and importers to call attention to the problem of illegally sourced honey; to encourage action to protect consumers and customers from these practices; and to highlight and support legal, transparent and ethical sourcing. The initiative seeks to help maintain the reputation of honey as a high-quality, highly valued food and further sustain the U.S. honey sector," from their press release.
Four companies, Dutch Gold in PA, Burleson's in TX, Golden Heritage in KS and Odem International in both Canada and the U.S., formed the group. They are four of the bigger operations in North America, but the two largest, Sioux Honey in SD, and the largest by far, Groeb Farms in MI are not part of the group. According to a spokesperson for Groeb's, price isn't on the list of things to worry about, but rather quality is first. This concept is affecting a lot of commodities now, - low prices with questionable quality, or high quality with resulting higher prices - but safer products.
That honey packers are stressed because of price is seen as unique by U.S. beekeepers, now able to sell honey at profitable prices because of short crops two years in a row. But the bottom line for both imported and domestic honey is that the honey market is global in scope, but examined under a parts per billion microscope by the food safety police everywhere. Recent research in the U.S. has identified issues with pesticides and antibiotics in both U.S. honey and foreign honey. Honey buyers, these packers and dealers who were at the meeting, are going to have to become food safety experts for the products they bring into their operations. If they don't they will not be able to sell their products to their customers... wary food buyers. Price, it seems, is going to become a secondary category for everybody... it's going to be safe, and secure and a quality honey product.
So honey sourcing, ethical or not, domestic or not, is under even more scrutiny. Soon, it will all be HonestHoney.
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