It's getting difficult to trust the safety of anything coming out of China anymore, isn't it? Youve read on this site about a variety of products that were made in China ... toys, pet food, milk and the like, all of which have been found to have been manufactured using products or chemicals that are just plain dangerous. It's a long list and stretches back years before they started reporting about them here.
For most of those years beekeepers in the U.S. have been aware of problems with some of the Chinese honey thats been imported into the U.S. And lately, beekeepers have known about Chinese transshipping, which is sending Chinese honey into the U.S. from a second, or even third country to avoid having anybody know it was originally from China. The Chinese exporters transship it through other countries to avoid paying tariffs and to reduce suspicion that it was contaminated with antibiotics, a problem common with Chinese honey.
Customs officials and FDA have occasionally intercepted loads of this not-so-sweet product that they knew had problems but their actions have gone mostly unnoticed. And the companies that imported the funny honey and have the honey confiscated are never identified. Why is that, do you suppose?
Anyway, over the New Years Holiday, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, a Hearst-owned newspaper (like The Daily Green), released the result of a multi-year, multi-state, multi-country, multi-agency investigative report on this problem. Andrew Schneider, the PI reporter put together a series of articles that outlined the problem, the players, and the results of illegal, contaminated honey entering the U.S. And in the process he resurrected a phrase beekeepers have known for years laundered honey. Moreover, he detailed the techniques used by exporters and importers to avoid detection, and where the honey goes once it evades detection at the U.S. border and enters, usually, mainstream commerce in the U.S.
Not only has much of Chinas honey been contaminated with a variety of antibiotics, much has, by hook or by crook avoided paying the tariff that is imposed on Chinese honey because they so undervalue it ... millions of pounds were recorded being sold in the U.S. last year priced at $0.22 a pound. It costs about $1 per pound to produce it normally, and U.S. Customs has placed a $1.20 per pound tariff on any incoming honey ... making the playing field somewhat level for producers from all other countries. So not only is it bad, it's being sold below cost.
This series of articles set off a firestorm in the beekeeping industry, with beekeepers, importers and packers joining their voices in demanding FDA, Customs and other regulatory agencies do a better job of keeping incoming honey clean, legal and properly labeled as to country of origin. Meanwhile, right now the FDA is under attack from congress for not doing their job on a whole lot of fronts for the last eight years, but that's another story.
Absent, so far, are the voices of the major users of honey ... the big retail, industrial and commercial users of honey ... cheap honey if they can get it. Those voices should be leading the pack, wouldnt you think? Why would they even take a chance of using something bad ... can you imagine a recall of a million boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios? Maybe they will join the chorus eventually.
But these stories bring to bear the financial pressure on U.S. beekeepers. With the market overwhelmed with $0.20 per pound honey, U.S. beekeepers didn't have a competitive prayer in the honey business, and if they were to stay viable they needed something else to make money, and pollination was the only trick in the book for almost all of them.
The series of articles in the Seattle paper deserve all the positive attention they can get, as does the reporter who spent five months putting it together. I urge you to read the entire series and become familiar with the many lessons learned.
The main lesson? Above all, read the label. Read the label. Read the label. Find out where your food comes from (some honey packers will tell you, some will tell you wrong, and some won't tell you at all); what's in it, and what's not in it. (the article documents several common food items that claim honey on the label without honey inside.
And although I know of some organically produced honey in the U.S., because of incomplete USDA standards, there just isn't any of the stuff around according to experts quoted in the article. So if you find some, be suspicious. Still, other countries do produce organic-by-their-standards organic honey and some is coming in from off shore. One was labeled Organic Trail Honey, labeled to be from the U.S., Canada, China, Argentina and Australia. Since there is no U.S. organic honey, what do you think?
If you are a honey packer buying honey from an importer, right off the bat be suspicious. Even the biggest, best and brightest honey packers have been fooled by these crooks, as shown in the articles.
And what happens to honey that is found defective, is rejected and not purchased by the importer ... it was suggested that honey packers from Michigan and Texas bought this honey, but we dont know who or where or why. So where does that antibiotic- or sugar-adulterated honey wind up? Back in China? In the ocean? What do you think?
Theres no doubt that cheap, imported, adulterated, contaminated honey has contributed, if only peripherally, to the Colony Collapse Disorder disaster that has visited U.S. beekeepers in the last several years. Not by poisoning bees, or even beekeepers, but by not only hoodwinking an uninformed and unsuspecting honey consumers, but forcing U.S. beekeepers out of business, or into businesses at the risk, and peril of their bees.
Shame on them. Shame on any producers who use illegal chemicals. Shame on the exporters who know the product is no good and sell it for pennies on the dollar. Shame on the importers who knowingly import it because of the ridiculous price. Shame on the packers who take advantage of this. And shame on the retailers and wholesalers who ultimately take advantage of the consumers who want, simply, a pure, wholesome product. This is disgraceful on so many levels. And you know it.
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