It has been a long time coming, but after years of ignoring or at least downplaying the fact that millions of gallons of honey imported into the U.S. each year are illegal, tainted with animal drugs or diluted with phony sweeteners, four of North America’s prominent honey dealers today warned the public to beware of the bad stuff.
“We estimate that millions of pounds of Chinese honey continue to enter the U.S. from countries that do not have commercial honey businesses,” said Jill Clark, vice president for marketing of Dutch Gold Honey, of Lancaster, Penn.
“For example, countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines and Mongolia raise few bees and have no history of producing honey in commercial quantities, yet have recently exported large amounts of honey to the United States,” Clark added. In the same in statement she announced the creation of a website which tells consumers, honey companies, food manufacturers and retailers what actions to take to eliminate illegally imported honey.
The site, called “HonestHoney.com,” is supported by Dutch Gold, Golden Heritage Foods of Hillsboro, Kan., Burleson’s Inc. from Waxahachie, Texas, and Odem International from Rosemere, Ont., one of North America’s largest honey suppliers. The site offers guides for consumers, honey brokers, packers and sellers suggesting ways to avoid the illegal honey.
Although the group said they notified most of the big players in the U.S. honey market of the initiative, no others joined in, which is bit puzzling.
Take Sue Bee, formally known as Sioux Bee Honey, which says it’s the country’s largest supplier of honey – about 40-million pounds each year. The company did not respond to e-mail messages asking why they chose not to participate.
For more than three years, federal investigators have had hit-or-miss successes trying to intercept boxcar-sized loads of illegally labeled honey coming into ports on both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico. More than a dozen arrests have been made of honey launderers and reportedly “active investigations” are targeting a number of other major players in the international scam.
Almost all have centered on honey actually from China that is intentionally mislabeled to avoid paying stiff import tariffs–and often contaminated with illegal animal antibiotics as well.
Those behind the initiative to alert the public say the illegal sales of honey have cost the U.S. up to $200 million in uncollected import duties in the past two years while continuing to threaten the domestic honey business and the future of America’s beekeepers.
“When honey is imported illegally, no one can be confident of its true source and quality. Some products are not 100 percent honey and have other quality issues,” said Clark.
While many consumers only think about honey as the golden liquid in plastic honey bears, in reality most of the honey imported into the U.S. is delivered in 250-gallon or tanker car-sized loads and ends up as an ingredient in cereals, breads, cookies, crackers, breakfast bars, meats, salad dressings, barbecue sauces, mustards, beverages, ice creams, yogurts and candies.
Investigators say that some of the food processors are prime, often-willing, targets for brokers trying to offload lower-cost, bogus honey.
The group says it hopes all the players will accept the provisions of this pledge:
THE HONEST HONEY PLEDGE
We pledge to protect our customers and consumers, as well as the global reputation of honey products, by ensuring to our utmost ability that honey is ethically sourced in a transparent and traceable manner from known beekeepers and brokers; that honey moves through the supply chain in full accordance with U.S. law and without circumvention of trade duties; that it carries truthful labeling as to its source, has been tested to ensure quality, and has been handled in a safe and secure manner from hive to table. We endeavor to do business with companies that share our concern for food safety and security. We pledge to stand against the collection, processing or sale of adulterated honey or honey that has been obtained in circumvention of U.S. law. We espouse a global standard for high-quality honey that does not allow for adulteration with added syrups or other sweetener extenders, or use of inappropriate additives in honey production. We actively support U.S. beekeepers, including supporting research to help beekeepers maintain the health and high quality of U.S. honey production and to fight colony collapse disorder.
For a longer version of this story, see what I wrote today for AOL News.