Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 | Author:

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 labeled organicBrazilian 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

Oakland honey Huber Honey, Cobb, CA Manzanita Honey, CA Hawaian Macadamia Honey Napa Valley honey Meek’s honey Huber Honey, Cobb, CA French lavender honey “organic” Himalayan honey Napa Valley honey Snugglespoon honey California honey

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
  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…

Andrew Schneider’s Secret Ingredients blog

Category: Honey, News
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3 Responses

  1. 1
    Lynda Craver 

    Is help possible? I’m not a computer-literate person, and have been trying to locate some Manzanita Honey to buy. I’m told that Southern CA and AZ have a shortage of the Manzanita plants … so does anyone know of anywhere else that I might find some? I’d be very grateful.
    Sincerely, Lynda Craver

  2. 2

    I bought Manzanita honey from Beekind’s store in Sebastopol, CA. You could probably find it cheaper elsewhere.

  3. 3

    Secret Ingredients
    Andrew Schneider writes about public health and worker safety issues. His stories run the gamut from investigations of corporate and government cover-ups of toxic perils, to stories about gutsy federal , medical and industry workers doing what’s right, to what makes the shrimp in your refrigerator glow at night and why white truffles might be worth $4,000 a pound.

    “I know. I have done a horrible job of keeping the blog active and interesting and many have expressed your views on my laziness or concerns on my demise. For the past few months I have been on the road chasing several stories that raised possible public health issues.

    We finally got one into print and on to the web. It’s called “Honey Laundering,” and this is a link to a collection of the six stories.

    Honey? A public health concern?

    Bizarre. I agree.

    But in answer to several dozen e-mails, allow me to chat a bit on how and why I did the stories.

    It started innocently enough, as many complex stories do. One of my colleagues – our brilliant port reporter – mention that a friend had bought a jar of honey with “Product of Washington State,” on the label and wasn’t sure whether it was even real honey.

    I called around to the analytical laboratories that we usually use to test “things” for contaminants. Even though the P-I’s ($$$$$) lab bills have sent the offspring of the labs’ owners to fine, private universities, they all said they didn’t have the technology to tell us the geographic source of the flowers the bees hit up for the honey.

    So I called an old friend in a federal lab near DC and she lamented that none of the government labs could answer that questions and gave me the names of three civilian labs in Texas, Massachusetts and Oregon that analyze honey samples for the feds.

    Huh? Why is our government testing honey anyhow?

    I called the labs and yes, they said, they do test honey for the government – for things like adulteration – where liquids and sweet syrups – corn, cane, rice and others – are added to dilute pure honey into something much, much cheaper to produce and that brings in a significantly higher profit.

    More importantly, they also said they test for a cheap animal antibiotic called chloramphenicol, which can cause serious illness or death among a very small percentage of people exposed to it. And sometimes other antibiotics called iprofloxacin and Enrofloxacin.

    Finally, I got it through my thick skull that what they were testing, in almost all cases, was foreign honey. I had no clue that U.S. bees produce about only a third of the honey we consume.

    This is how we got the story:

    The information came from about 180 plus interviews, 422 e-mails, elaborate databases of thousands of ocean shipping documents from Import-Genus and Trade-Mining LLC. Daniel Lathrop’s (our computer guru) skillful manipulations of customs and Commerce Department tallies of honey shipments crossing the Canadian and Mexican borders and Aubrey Cohen, our real estate wizard, who translated Russian letters and customs documents.

    However, the truth would never have shown through without help and patience of lots of beekeepers, honey importers and packers, apiculturists, some federal agents who help sort through misinformation being shoveled by their Washington headquarters. Especially surprising was the help offered in Canada, Russia, Thailand, Vietnam, India and Australia from honey brokers and producers, Foreign and U.S. overseas trade and ICE officials, and honey associations.

    I encountered some really amazing people, and I’ll write a bit about some of them in coming days.

    For those of you who don’t want to wade through the stories, here are the points they make: Most U.S. and Canadian honey is of high quality and safe; the large majority of honey consumed in the U.S. is imported; millions of pounds of Chinese honey destine for the U.S., is transshipped and frequently mislabeled as coming from a different foreign country; some importers and honey packers are in on the con; federal investigators and some large honey importer say they still find Chinese honey tainted with illegal medications; FDA, USDA and customs agents have far too much on their plates to pay much attention to honey and only a smallest fraction of honey seeping through out borders is ever tested.

    So I ask myself why did I spend so long on a topic that presents – when compared to other issues – such a benign risk?

    This comment from David Westervelt, one of Florida State’s 15 highly trained apiculture inspectors, may explain my concern:

    “Someday, some really harmful honey will be shipped into this country, and a lot of people will get sick or worse – and then the government will do something about it,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to wait for people to get sick.”

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