I’ve read in trade journals and forums about China dumping honey in the U.S., and it’s nice to see some investigative journalism on the subject! Curiously absent from the wonderfully long story is Brazil. (Has anyone else noticed Brazilian honey in U.S. stores?) Brazilian honey sits on the shelf at the Berkeley Bowl (like Whole Foods, but local) for $1.99 labeled “organic” from the USDA. It’s the cheapest honey in the store among many lovely, local honey jars, and supposedly the USDA was in Brazil following the bees to ensure they didn’t land on any sprayed flowers… yeah right. How does it happen that Brazilian honey makes it way into the U.S. more cheaply than local honey, and can even have a USDA organic stamp on it? Certification acceptance, secretly negotiated trade agreements, blah, blah. (Brazil doubled its honey exports in 2008!) When the state of California was planning to spray all of the San Francisco Bay Area with chemicals to prevent spread of the allegedly dangerous Light Brown Apple Moth, I was told at a public meeting that the USDA would have just given “waivers” to all of the organic farms sprayed with chemical agents, thus allowing them to continue selling their products as organic. Truth in labeling? The USDA Organic brand proves again to be adulterated and green washed. Shame on Berkeley Bowl for putting their own name on it, too.
I’ll take this opportunity to post my own photo survey of the honey market I did back in November ’08 at the Berkeley Bowl. You’ll see French and Indian honey labeled organic as well, with prices. Perhaps a followup on the “honey laundering” story will reveal something about Brazilian honey imports. -D
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Last updated 3:01 p.m. PT
Honey Laundering: A sticky trail of intrigue and crime
Country of origin no guarantee on cheap imports
SULTAN — Seven cars with darkened windows barreled east toward the Cascades, whizzing past this Snohomish County hamlet’s smattering of shops and eateries.
The sedans and sport utility vehicles stirred up dust as they rolled into the parking lot of Pure Foods Inc., a Washington honey producer.
Out popped a dozen people in dark windbreakers identifying them as feds — agents from Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some raced to the loading docks. Others hurried through the front door. All were armed.
The man who runs the business, Mike Ingalls, was stunned.
“I just sell honey — what the hell is this all about?” he remembered asking, as he was hustled into a tiny room with his office manager and truck driver.
Three days before the April 25 raid, customs had persuaded a federal judge in Seattle to issue the search warrant shoved in Ingalls’ hands. But it wasn’t until Ingalls read “Attachment D” that he understood why investigators were seizing his business records, passport, phone logs, photographs, Rolodexes, mail and computer files — almost anything that could be copied or hauled away.
|Mike Ingalls, owner of Pure Foods in Sultan, was raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on April 25, but no charges have been filed against him.|
He was suspected of trafficking in counterfeit merchandise — a honey smuggler.
A far cry from the innocent image of Winnie the Pooh with a paw stuck in the honey pot, the international honey trade has become increasingly rife with crime and intrigue.
In the U.S., where bee colonies are dying off and demand for imported honey is soaring, traders of the thick amber liquid are resorting to elaborate schemes to dodge tariffs and health safeguards in order to dump cheap honey on the market, a five-month Seattle P-I investigation has found.
The business is plagued by foreign hucksters and shady importers who rip off conscientious U.S. packers with honey diluted with sugar water or corn syrup — or worse, tainted with pesticides or antibiotics.
Among the P-I’s findings:
- Big shipments of contaminated honey from China are frequently laundered in other countries — an illegal practice called “transshipping” — in order to avoid U.S.import fees, protective tariffs or taxes imposed on foreign products that intentionally undercut domestic prices.In a series of shipments in the past year, tons of honey produced in China passed through the ports of Tacoma and Long Beach, Calif., after being fraudulently marked as a tariff-free product of Russia.
- Tens of thousands of pounds of honey entering the U.S. each year come from countries that raise few bees and have no record of producing honey for export.
- The government promises intense scrutiny of honey crossing our borders but only a small fraction is inspected, and seizures and arrests remain rare.
- The feds haven’t adopted a legal definition of honey, making it difficult for enforcement agents to keep bad honey off the shelves.
Read the rest of the story, see the maps…