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Oh Honey

August 23, 2011

I hate bees, but I love honey. Okay, love may be strong.

When I’m sick I’ll make a ginger and honey tisane. During Rosh Hashana I’ll dip apples in the stuff to symbolize a sweet new year. In the winter, I’ll warm up with a hot toddy with whiskey and honey. And when the weather warms up, I like a drizzle on some tart frozen yogurt.

You know who really loves honey? Young Master Fussy. Almost every morning he requests the same thing for breakfast. And it’s a little unusual to be sure, but like they say, the branch doesn’t fall far from the tree.

His favorite breakfast by far is peanut butter and honey in a bowl. He eats it with a spoon with some milk to wash it down. So when I saw Deanna’s tweet from earlier yesterday about illegal honey smuggling, I was naturally curious and alarmed.

Could the honey I buy be affected?

First you may be curious about what all the concern is about illegal honey smuggling. After all, many of us engage in illegal activities all the time. You know, from the occasional joint, to speeding, or texting while driving, not paying sales tax in New York on items bought over the internet, or even potentially entering into private leasing arrangements with your friends to share the cost of wholesale foodstuffs.

Well, there is the brief summary on the Huffington Post and the much longer piece on Food Safety News, which happens to be a website run by Bill Marler’s law firm.

Seriously, this guy should be running things in Washington D.C.

I’ve read the long piece, and I think I can give you a bit more of a nuanced and less panicked rendition than what was presented by Huff Po.

First know this. The concern is far greater than just the honey that you buy in jars. So buying local from a trusted source doesn’t actually solve anything. The findings of Food Safety News apply to everything made that lists honey as an ingredient. And personally, I’m a bit more concerned about those processed foods than I am fluid honey. You can guarantee I’m going to start reading labels a bit more closely and reconsider items that list honey as an ingredient. But that’s just me.

The bottom line is that Chinese honey is pretty sketchy stuff. The two largest concerns are lead and FDA banned antibiotics.

Some of the Chinese honey is collected in rural provinces using archaic methods. Specifically, “unlined, lead-soldered drums to collect and store the honey before it is collected by the brokers for processing.” This is how lead gets into the honey supply.

Apparently in 2001 there was a serious bacterial epidemic that infected Chinese hives and was fought with antibiotics, including one named chloramphenicol. The article goes on to say, “Medical researchers found that children given chloramphenicol as an antibiotic are susceptible to DNA damage and carcinogenicity.” That’s not good.

The U.S. effectively banned Chinese honey by imposing punitive trade tariff’s on the stuff, for these and other reasons. The other reason? Well some of the Chinese honey isn’t actually honey. Seriously.

Anyhow, Andrew Schneider, the Pulitzer prize winning investigative journalist who penned this article paints a pretty clear picture of Chinese honey being sent to the U.S. through India and other countries. Labels are being changed and new documents are being produced. But it’s not just Mr. Schneider who is aware of the shenanigans. The E.U. has taken the dramatic step of banning honey imports from India.

This seems like a shame, because there are undoubtedly honest and legitimate honey producers in the country. Apparently if the U.S. followed suit, it would be economically devastating for the honey producers of our South Asian allies. Given the tensions in the region, I don’t expect to see the U.S. making this move any time in say, the next 50 years.

The best answer is testing shipments and enforcing the law. But the FDA has neither the time nor the resources to adequately do this. So the practice goes on because it’s unlikely the perpetrators will be caught.

To be fair, some smuggler have been apprehended, but not enough to halt the flow of this illegal honey.

The global food industry is just too damn big. It’s impossibly big. It’s difficult for the human mind to even conceive of just how big it really is. But as the industry has been growing and consolidating, the regulators have been shrinking. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that federal regulators aren’t going after the Cargils and honey packers, and are instead busting the raw milk club in California.

So have I been slowly poisoning my kid? Well, we usually buy Price Chopper’s Central Market Classic’s buckwheat honey. I’ve sent a note to them on Facebook, and they assure me they are working on coming up with an answer as to where their honey comes from.

I’m looking forward to finding out.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott Bakula permalink
    August 23, 2011 10:08 am

    Are you saying you text while you drive?

    I’m surprised that you’d be so cavalier about an act that puts other people in danger.

    Why didn’t you include driving while hammered in that list?

    You know, because killing people isn’t that big a deal, right?

  2. August 23, 2011 10:48 am

    I’m glad I only buy local, raw honey. But the ingredient aspect remains. Then again, there are all the other ingredients you need to watch out for; tainted, chemically created/produced/altered, or otherwise cheap. Funny what happens when staple needs become industry supplied, and food becomes food product.

  3. August 23, 2011 11:07 am

    There are so many local honey producers DB, why are you still buying from Price Chopper?? We get all of ours from Lloyd Spear in Schenectady for the bakery, he is a vendor at the Saturday Delmar Farmers Market. You may pay more, but when that means skipping the risks outlined above, isn’t the extra expense worth it? Our daughter loves eating a couple of teaspoons of raw honey, and Lloyd makes a spun cinnamon version you *must* try.

  4. Tonia permalink
    August 23, 2011 11:16 am

    Yes Dan. There are local honey producers, why buy from PC? I have bought Lloyd Spear also, good stuff. I am fortunate now, my father has his own hives on his land, so I see the source. :-)

  5. August 23, 2011 3:14 pm

    I don’t wanna sound like a broken record since Britin has already asked you… But WHY do you buy grocery store honey since its sooo prevalent at most-all local farmers markets- even year round. I buy gallon jugs for $19 from a beekeeper at the Saratoga Farmers Market and unless its jam-making season or I’m baking-up-a-storm, the gallon jug lasts us a few months. I refill a honey pot once every couple of weeks…. I would dare to say its cheaper buying it this way. We also buy our maple syrup that way. Buy a gallon- then put in smaller jars to use as needed…

  6. irishj permalink
    August 23, 2011 10:17 pm

    Why buy any food product that you don’t know the origin? We also buy our honey at the farmers market in gallon jugs…but it extends way beyond that…try to find salmon…or any other fish for that matter at wal-mart or PC that does NOT come from China. We refuse to purchase anything, food or otherwise that is made in China, it is not worth the risk, and why not support OUR economy.

  7. Ed J permalink
    August 24, 2011 1:03 pm

    Just saying, buying anything from China is supporting our economy…basically of anything labeled “made in china,” about 55% of the price you pay is going to services produced in the US, so you are supporting our economy.

  8. irishj permalink
    August 27, 2011 7:47 pm

    @ Ed j, where did that number come from, I call BS. Buying anything made in China is NOT supporting our economy and is more than likely either very inferior quality, toxic or both.

  9. Ed J permalink
    August 29, 2011 7:51 pm

    @irishj- the federal reserve bank of san francisco

    http://www.frbsf.org/publications/economics/letter/2011/el2011-25.html?utm_source=home

    Agree with you on the quality/toxicity though

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