How Safe Is Your Honey II

It’s been quite some time since I last posted – in fact it was 2011 when I talked about this same subject and apparently little has changed. on April 28, 2016 and again on June 29, 2016 special agents of Homeland Security Investigations (ICE) Chicago seized 120 tons of honey smuggled from China. When this honey entered the United States, it was claimed to be a product of Vietnam, but in fact testing showed that it came from China. It was transshipped through Vietnam to avoid anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese honey. You can read the full report here and here. What is especially disturbing about this is that honey from China has repeatedly been shown to be adulterated with other sweeteners and contaminated with harmful chemicals.

What should be of concern to the average consumer is that consumption of honey in the US is increasing and now to meet that demand we are now importing 70% of our honey with a substantial amount of that coming from countries of the Eastern hemisphere.  From 2010 to 2015 imports from Asia have almost doubled from slightly over 60,000 metric tons to almost 120,00 metric tons. These major export countries are China, India, Vietnam, Ukraine, Thailand, Turkey and Taiwan. I don’t know about you, but I don’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling about my food coming from these countries.

What can you do as a consumer? Know the source of your honey,

Is Your Store-Bought Honey Really Honey?

diluted-honeyOn November 7 the Food Safety News published a controversial article that reported that they had found that 76  percent of the honey they had purchased in major grocery stores contained no pollen and therefore was not really honey.  Furthermore, they had tested honey purchased at drug stores like Rite-Aid and CVS and found that 100% contained no pollen, 77% at big box stores like Sam’s Club and Costco contained no pollen and 100% of small individual service portions from McDonald’s and KFC contained no pollen. At the same time they found that honey purchased at farmers markets, co-ops and “natural stores” like Trader Joe’s contained the normal expected amounts of pollen.

The question is why do producers and packers remove through filtration the pollen which is a normal beneficial component of honey? The bottom line is that it done for one or more reasons. Number one is to hide the source of the honey. Honey can be traced back to its origin based on the  pollen it contains. Right now we have a tremendous problem in this country with illegal importation of honey from China via a third country. This is being done to circumvent the anti-dumping duties and screening for contaminants that Chinese honey has been found to be tainted with. (see the related articles in earlier posts) The second reason is to extend the shelf life of the honey. The pollen grains and sugar crystals contained in raw honey serve as seeds for the growth of larger sugar crystals that eventually lead to crystallization of the entire jar of honey. This is a normal occurrence and in fact the preferred form of honey in Europe and other parts of the world.  So is honey really honey without the pollen?   You as the consumer are the one to answer the question.

Here is a link to the article:

How Safe Is Any of Our Food?

With all the recent press concerning the Salmonella outbreak that has been linked to peanut butter from a Georgia plant, it is understandable that the stories concerning the “Honey Laundering” scam hasn’t garnered national attention. At least no one has died from eating the tainted honey – yet. As I mentioned in my earlier articles, honey from China that has been found to contain everything from high fructose corn syrup, pesticides and antibiotics, is being transshipped from China to a third country and then smuggled into the US. The honey is then re-labeled as a product of that third country rather than a product of China to avoid the tariffs and the closer scrutiny it would be subject to as a product of China.

As reported in the recent Seattle PI series of newspaper articles, the US honey packers are currently using imported honey for more than one-half the honey consumed in the country and much of it is coming from countries that raise few bees and have no record of producing honey for export. One of the largest packers in the country is Silverbow whose customers include Costco, Walmart and Safeway. Gary Grigg, its owner, is quoted in one of the articles as saying “The FDA is on top of it and they pull samples and check containers before they release them to us to buy – They’re the watchdogs.” I don’t think so. The FDA even states that the agency only tests about a hundred honey samples a year and relies heavily on tips from industry whistle-blowers. It sounds to me like the fox is in charge of watching the hen house.

Another problem is the fact that there is no legal definition of what honey is in the US. There is nothing that says high fructose corn syrup or sugar water added to honey cannot be called honey. The USDA has stated that they don’t have the resources to enforce a standard if one existed – so why try. And for the organic consumers, the USDA has said “you can certify any product as organic as long as you comply with the existing regulation, but there are no regulations for honey”. That means that the green USDA organic sticker on honey is meaningless”. In fact, the USDA has never levied a fine for violation of organic rules for honey or any other product. In this vacuum the State of Florida has recently passed a standard definition for honey with teeth that allow for civil penalties against abusers of the statute. Hopefully other states will follow in adopting similar laws. So how many of you serve your children honey nut cheerios for breakfast, or honey graham crackers for an afternoon snack or your honey wheat berry bread for lunch? Read the ingredients and you will see honey listed, but what is the percent of it compared to the high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners that are listed along with it, and what assurance do you even have that the honey listed is really honey?

So the bottom line for now is for the buyer to beware. Ask questions and don’t assume. And if you are buying honey – buy it from someone you know and even then ask questions.

Honey Laundering

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.

Do You know Where Your Honey Comes From and How Safe It Is?

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.