Saturday, May 22, 2010

Honey Laundering

“Bee folk, settle here,
Do not go from this place,
I give thee house and place,
Thou must bring me honey and wax”
~Bessler, Geschichte der Bienenzucht

I have been a honey lover long before I started keeping bees. It’s hard to see but the open cells on this frame of bees are full of nectar that is being ripened into honey, soon to be capped with fresh wax for storage.

Honey is my number one, go to choice when I want to sweeten my tea, or drizzle a tad on my oatmeal and toast. I even use a dab of honey to get my yeast started when I make a loaf of bread or pizza crust. I have also had great success with honey’s healing properties on cuts or sores that won’t seem to heal…just a dab of honey under the bandage does the trick. Honey’s antibacterial qualities treat burns and scrapes and some cultures still use honey medicinally. Reportedly the US military is reinvestigating honey for healing wounds our troops sustain while in combat.

Honey is composed of carbohydrates and water and includes small amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

In the USA we consume more than 400 million pounds of honey annually! That’s 1.29 pounds per person each year. Many of us buy liquid honey in jars, but an even larger portion of the population enjoy honey in manufactured cereals, breads, cookies, sauces, desserts, salad dressings, meats…the list goes on and on. That is a lot of honey, more than can be supplied by US beekeepers alone, so much of our honey is imported from around the world. US and Canadian laws keep US and Canadian beekeepers to a high standard of honey purity. But what about that honey that is coming into our ports from other countries where standards may not be as high?

A few years ago The Seattle Post-Intelligencer did a series of articles exposing the ugly reality of honey laundering, researching in depth the fact that our current laws are not adequate to protect the US honey supply.

Chinese Honey Laundered in U.S., Seattle Paper Exposes the continued fraud.
By Alan Harman

Big shipments of contaminated honey from China are being laundered in other countries to avoid U.S. import fees, protective tariffs or taxes imposed on foreign products that intentionally undercut domestic prices.
A five-month investigation by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer found that in a series of shipments in the past year, tons of honey produced in China passed through the ports of Tacoma, Wa. and Long Beach, Calif., after being fraudulently marked as a tariff-free product from Russia.
It found other shipments routed through India, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, and Thailand.
The report, which mirrors a story in Bee Culture back in 2002, says 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.
"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," the newspaper reports.
"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."
Changing the county of origin from China is designed to avoid tariffs of up to 500%. Vaughn Bryant, a palynologist and an anthropology professor, spends hours at a time peering at slides of pollen samples, comparing them to track down the origins of honey with questionable heritage. For the last five years, he has analyzed the pollen in honey samples from all over the world to determine the nectar sources and origin of the honey.
He examines imported samples purported to come from Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos, and usually discovers the samples are blends, with a little honey from those countries and a majority of the blend coming from Chinese sources.
"And the U.S. needs to make it illegal to import honey that has been filtered to remove the pollen, which makes it almost impossible to detect where it came from."

(The italics above are quoted excerpts of the research of Alan Harman. The complete articles can be found in the ‘Catch the Buzz’ reference links below.)

Illegally imported honey is illegal because it has been adulterated in some way or contains contaminants banned by the US. But still this honey is finding its way into our ports and markets and food supply.

I am not engaging in more China bashing…I’d write no matter which country was doing this, and as you can see several are getting away with it. However based on numerous investigations, China is the originating source of unsafe honey at the time of this writing. is a newly launched website providing more information on this problem and giving consumers, honey companies, food manufactures and retailers a way to fight back and stop the pollution of the US honey supply.

This is why knowing a local beekeeper and honey source is great, but not everyone has a beekeeper next door. Be aware too, that even small time beekeepers with a few hives, but who have a continual supply of honey at your local farmers market…well those few hives cannot produce enough for a year round supply…where is that vendor getting all that honey? They can buy it by the barrel too. It is the law for US retail honey labels to specify ‘country of origin’ but the FDA does not enforce it, so many do not include it. I only buy honey whose label specifies the country of origin to be Canada and/or USA or a blend of both. It's not a guarantee but it's about as close as I can get to assurance when I buy bottled honey.

This is a case where quality really does need to take precedence over price.

I write about the problems within the USA honey supply. No doubt there are problems abroad. If you live outside of the USA, are you aware of any illegal/tainted imported honey supply issues your country is dealing with?



Catch The Buzz e-newsletter (

Honey Fact Sheet

Seattle P-I links

In bloom in my garden today: Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Armeria latifolia ‘Joystick’, Star of Bethlehem, Bellis perennis (English Daisy), Dicentra spectabilis (common bleeding heart), Vancouveria hexandra, Dianthus, Day Lily, Aquilegia (Columbine), Rose, Peony, Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’, Syringa ‘Adelaide Dunbar’, Blueberry ‘Sunshine Blue’, Iris, Huckleberry, Geum ‘Lady Stratheden’, Saxifrage, Bergenia ‘Winter Glow’, old fashioned Coral Bells (Heuchera), Tellima (Fringe Cups), Ajuga (Bugleweed), Solomon’s Seal, Dodecatheon (Shooting Star), Alpine strawberry, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’

Author’s photo


Cindy said...

Hubs and I are both reading (and re reading) this...and my little one is having a snack and we were watching "the bee movie" before I logged on....all while Hubs was out trying to find us...


a lilac.

small world and I love that we all influence each other (hopefully in good ways)


great post btw

Joan said...

Hi Cindy!
Thanks for reading.
Be sure to check out the links to the references...there's lots of info on this.

Believe it or not I've never seen the bee movie...I need to rent it...I hear they villify the beekeeper :( boo!

What color lilac are you after? Or does it matter? Two of mine are still blooming and scenting the walkway. Love that!

Shari B. (FitFeat) said...

Another amazing post Joan! You always have the most informative topics!

And now I need to go check the label on my honey and do some further research because my honey is supposedly local to Colorado - but you have a great point about how they can meet supply if they are small. So I'll do some further reading to see what I can find. Thanks so much for opening my eyes to this!

Joan said...

You're welcome Shari!

I'm just sorry this happens so a report is necessary!

I do hope your honey source is legit. If you decide it is via your research, definitely spread the word to friends and neighbors...honesty needs to be rewarded!

Thanks for reading!

Cindy said...

we might get WHITE. funny no? we couldn't believe ALL the varieties, they are like roses sort of.

I'll def let you know what we end up with and
the bee movie pokes a lot of fun at bee keepers. I saw this movie long before I ever considered being one. but it stirred in me a new apprecieation for the lil guys. also, it's funny now to me that my little one is so in love with it all.

in years past I would have avoided plants that "attracted" bees..we have a baby..we have pets.
I only worried about someone getting stung.

my whole perception has changed. I have fruit trees..I need bees... bees need us!

it's such a good thing. and I love honey.

I avoided it all last year because it wasn't RAW ( the stores pasturize it mostly) and used agave..but lately honey is all I am using again.

I am going to scour your links for sure!

Joan said...

Your comments warm my heart Cindy.

Being a beekeeper is a good thing.