China was the biggest supplier until the US slapped a tariff on Chinese exports to counter state subsidies. But China came up with a clever way to skirt the duties:
"They'll ship their honey to another country, say, Malaysia or Thailand or India," said Troy Fore of the American Beekeeping Federation. "Then it's apparently honey from that country, so they can ship it (to the U.S.) and it escapes the duty."
The practice is so widespread that one-third of our honey supply is probably smuggled in from China, according to an investigation Food Safety News.
Some smugglers go even further:
- In 2010, the U.S. Dept. of Commerce accused ten German honey executives of sneaking $40 million of Chinese honey into the U.S. between 2002 and 2009.
- The Russian Honey Federation recently caught Chinese shippers sticking labels on their honey to make it seem as if they were from Russia, according to Food Safety News.
- And since you can track honey's origin by its pollen, smugglers have been obliterating its traces with heavy equipment to get it through other countries, Fore said.
Why you should worry:
Antibiotics. Chinese beekeepers started using the antibiotic Chloramphenicol to stave off a severe bacterial infection that threatened to cripple the country's honey industry in the late 90s. The drug is outlawed for consumption in the U.S., but could sneak onto shelves in tainted Chinese honey imports.
When the FDA seized 64 drums of smuggled Chinese honey in a Philadelphia warehouse back in 2010, they discovered traces of the drug, according to Mother Nature Network .
Lead. Many mom and pop Chinese beekeepers use unlined lead drums to store and collect honey before it's processed, per Food Safety News. If we worry about lead in our lip gloss, we should probably worry about it appearing in our food.
How to vet honey:
American beekeepers have been fighting for a honey standard for years. Without one, the FDA isn't obligated to police every barrel of honey that enters the country.
For now, Fore says your best bet is to research your store's honey supply and check the label for just one ingredient: Honey.
And don't fear the "cloudy" stuff you see at the store. That just means it hasn't been filtered for pollen, so it's not likely to come from China.
Food Safety News performed a thorough 2011 study of pollen content in store-bought honey in the U.S. Use it as a reference on where to find the purest honey on shelves.
If you thought honey laundering was bad ...
Wait until you read the whole story on fraud in the olive oil industry >
More From Business Insider