In late December 2008 there were numerous articles appearing in newspapers around the county describing a “honey laundering” scam. As I mentioned in the previous article, honey traced to China has been found to contain antibiotics, pesticides and diluted with sugar water or corn syrup. In an effort to circumvent inspections, tariffs and import fees on the Chinese honey the honey is imported to another country that is not as closely scrutinized and then re-label with that country listed as the source of the honey rather than listing its true source as being China. Health officials say that unless something is done, the problem could result in a repeat of the tainted baby milk and pet food scandals of 2008 – but this time with honey.

On January 1, 2009 it was reported that drums of honey labeled “Polish Light Amber Honey” were imported into the US from Australia. The honey actually originated in China. As a result honey now imported from Australia is on a list of 13 countries whose honey is supposed to be carefully checked on entry to the US. The Melbourne operators have been charged and fined $489,000 for importing and rebadging 125 containers holding 1.7 million liters of Chinese honey sold into the US. It was reported in Bee Culture Magazine that the life of a senior figure in the Australia honey industry was threatened when he tried to expose the scam of importing the Chinese honey, rebadging it and then selling it in the US. In fact the brakes on his car mysteriously failed a few weeks after the threat with his wife and children in the car. The Seattle Post Intelligencer conducted a five month investigation into “honey laundering” and has written a detailed series of articles “Following the Honey Trail” for those who wish to learn more.

The articles report further that The National Honey Board that has close ties to the United States Department of Agriculture may be part of the problem. The Board consists of many large producers, packers and distributors who claim that it is not their responsibility to police the honey that their members buy and sell. In some instances tainted honey is found, but rather than informing the authorities, it is just returned to the broker from who they bought it from, only to be resold to another packer who did not check as thoroughly or did not care.