buyer beware

With the economy in a free fall, the disaster striking American beekeepers and the honey industry might not be in the forefront of your mind, but it should be.

(I digress: There is something about honey that brings out the core self-amusing qualities of headline writers (these aren't necessarily admirable qualities).

I wrote a review of three new books on colony collapse disorder for the Virginian Pilot that was published Sunday. I can't link to it as they have rather unhelpfully not put it up on the web for reasons I don't understand. Why this paper hoards some of its content for the unreadable paper edition I don't know. Perhaps this is an indication why there have been zero (0) takers for the paper when it was recently on the sales block. Yup, all because they didn't post my book review.)

I think we were talking about bees and headlines. The headline for that review was "Plight of the Honeybee," which I liked I will admit.

A friend today sent me this article about the illicit honey trade which is headlined "Honey Laundering".

some of the conclusions:

"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."

An incredible list. That last fact is my favorite--honey hasn't been legally defined. Since this is truly a product that is not finalized until the bees say it is good to go and cap it, and which cannot be made in any other way, only the Feds would have difficulty making a definition of it.

Here's how it works:

"In August, 350 drums containing 223,300 pounds of Chinese honey were shipped from Hubei Yangzijiang Apiculture Co. in Wuhan, China, and loaded on a ship in Shanghai. Within a month, the shipment arrived at Tuglakabad, an import warehouse near New Delhi.

There, according to Indian Customs reports, the honey marked "for re-export purposes" was accepted by Apis India Natural Products. The drums still contained instructions from the Chinese company, saying the load was to be shipped to America's biggest and oldest honey cooperative -- Iowa-based Sue Bee Honey. Two containers of the honey reportedly were shipped to Norfolk, Va., and three more went to Jacksonville, Fla.; all were later routed to Iowa.

"We do not buy Chinese honey," said Sue Bee Vice President Bill Huser. Then he quickly added: "We're trying not to buy Chinese honey. Someone could be trying to bamboozle us.""

That correction is interesting. That "USA" label on the big packers brand means nothing at all if the honey is actually blended with the Chinese poison. You might as well be spreading disease-resistant staph bacteria on your toast.

and there is more:

"The U.S. imported 237 million pounds of raw honey last year. But honey brokers, bee experts and foreign customs officials say they're suspicious that seven of the top 12 countries appear to be exporting far more honey than their domestic bees produce or their export agencies acknowledge. These countries include Vietnam, India, Thailand, Russia, Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Some of the honey laundering is so brazen, it's hard to believe there haven't been more arrests, yet federal law enforcement agencies refer to the Chicago arrests as the only ones they can recall.

Countries that have few if any commercial beekeepers, such as Singapore, are now exporting significant quantities of honey, records show. That includes the Grand Bahamas, which has been listed as the country of origin for honey shipped into Houston, authorities say.

"I have a difficult time seeing the Grand Bahamas as a major honey producer," said David Westervelt, a Florida state apiculture inspector. "It's an island. You move bees on there and they'll die."

And other countries that locally produce mostly dark, strong-tasting honey, such as India, Vietnam and South Korea, are shipping tons of the more marketable white honey.

Vietnam is now the No. 2 honey exporter to the U.S., second to Canada. But Vietnamese honey officials say much Chinese honey is being transshipped through their country, citing 24 containers that arrived in Los Angeles earlier this month.

"When the Chinese first got into trouble with this antibiotic adulteration, all of a sudden Vietnam became a major exporter of honey to the United States," said Mike Burgett, professor emeritus in entomology at Oregon State University who has monitored Southeast Asian beekeeping for 27 years. "I know damn well that the Vietnamese bee industry cannot be pumping out that much honey."


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