There’s nothing like a spot of honey whether it’s sweetening your tea or coffee, mixed into yogurt, or smeared onto an English muffin with butter and jam. Many people assume that honey is more wholesome and healthful alternative to more processed sugar products – and it certainly is when it’s pure and straight from the hive. But do you know where your honey comes from? A new report from Food Safety News may have you second guessing.
According to a piece by award-winning investigative journalist Andrew Schneider, at least a third of all honey consumed in the United States is likely smuggled in from China and could be tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals like lead.
“Experts interviewed by Food Safety News say some of the largest and most long-established U.S. honey packers are knowingly buying mislabeled, transshipped or possibly altered honey so they can sell it cheaper than those companies who demand safety, quality and rigorously inspected honey,” reads the report.
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While the European Union has banned shipments of imported honey from both China and India – a known pit stop for Chinese varieties – Schneider posits that a corrupt system in the U.S. has allowed millions of gallons of tainted honey to enter the market unquestioned. "There are still millions of pounds of transshipped Chinese honey coming in the U.S. and it's all coming now from India and Vietnam and everybody in the industry knows that," Elise Gagnon (president of Odem International, a trading house specializing in raw honey) told Food Safety News.
So, what’s so bad about this imported honey? For starters, there’s the lead and antibiotics. To deal with a recent epidemic, Chinese beekeepers resorted to strong animal antibiotics including chloramphenicol which was banned by the FDA for threats of DNA damage, carcinogenicity, and a potentially fatal reaction called aplastic anemia. The lead traces (which come from low-quality drums in which the honey is sometimes stored) cause an even bigger threat.
Then there’s the possibility that it might not even really be honey at all. “Another favorite con among Chinese brokers,” reads the report, “was to mix sugar water, malt sweeteners, corn or rice syrup, jaggery, barley malt sweetener or other additives with a bit of actual honey. In recent years, many shippers have eliminated the honey completely and just use thickened, colored, natural or chemical sweeteners labeled as honey.” This counterfeit tincture is then allegedly ultra-filtered and mixed with Indian honey to confuse more sophisticated tests and pass by the FDA undetected.
“We have yet to detect ultra-filtered honey,” FDA press officer Tamara Ward told Schneider. “If we do detect ultra-filtered honey we will refuse entry.”
This is only the tip of the iceberg – and while we wish the report gave more indication of who is actually participating in this corruption (beyond hints that “everyone in the industry knows who they are”), we’re intrigued that this could be the start of some major whistle blowing in a rarely discussed industry. For more, check out the whole article here.