As a serious hobbyist beekeeper who sells his honey at the local farmers market, I pride myself in producing a deliciously healthful, quality product that is enjoyed by my friends, family and customers. Everyone constantly expresses amazement at the diverse, intense flavors of the honey that they have never experienced before and a growing number of them are seeking locally produced, raw, Wildflower honey for relief of their allergies. I am absolutely appalled by recent reports from the news media and honeybee periodicals warning of tainted honey and “Honey laundering”. The general public and most consumers are uneducated as to what is happening.
The demand for honey in the United States is growing and far outstrips the supply of what can be produced here in part due to declining honeybee numbers, and as a result, two thirds of our honey is imported into the US. This mirrors what is happening to the US food supply as a whole. In fiscal year 2007, approximately 60 percent of the fresh fruits and vegetables and 75 percent of seafood consumed in the US was imported. Approximately 239 million pounds of honey was imported from a number of countries – but mainly from Argentina, China, Canada and Vietnam. So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that beginning back in 2002 the US Customs Service began testing illegal transshipped Chinese honey and found it was contaminated with Chloramphenicol, which is an unapproved food additive and an antibiotic of last resort used to treat humans when no other options are available. For obvious reasons it is an illegal to use in human food products or animal feed here in the US. In 2006 the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) discovered honey from China adulterated with Ciprofloxacin and Enrofloxacin. You may remember that “cipro” was the drug that was used to treat the victims of the anthrax attacks from a few years ago. There have also been reports of finding pesticides in honey from China, as well honey diluted with sugar water or corn syrup.
So how did the antibiotics show up in their honey? In 1997 the Chinese had a widespread bacterial infection of their honeybees that nearly wiped out their bee hives and they used these antibiotic substances that are banned here in the US to treat their bees. These chemicals are still showing up in their honey imported into the US. As a result, there have been elaborate schemes devised to circumvent the health and safety checks, import fees and tariffs imposed by the US on Chinese food products.
More on “Honey Laundering” in the next article.