Honey Laundering Revisited

January 2, 2009

The Seattle Times ran a series of five articles by Andrew Schneider this past week on honey laundering, a topic I blogged about some time ago. The articles are a good read, he manages to bring a bit of James Bond flair to the business:

Seven cars with darkened windows barreled east toward the Cascades, whizzing past this Snohomish County hamlet’s smattering of shops and eateries.

The sedans and sport utility vehicles stirred up dust as they rolled into the parking lot of Pure Foods Inc., a Washington honey producer.

Out popped a dozen people in dark windbreakers identifying them as feds — agents from Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some raced to the loading docks. Others hurried through the front door. All were armed.

The gist of it is that Chinese honey producers are apparently no safer than Chinese dairies, using antibiotics and pesticides that are banned for use in foods in the U.S. and adulterating their honey with corn syrup, cane syrup and water.

To get around tariffs and rightly skeptical American consumers, the Chinese honey is shipped to Vietnam, Russia, Thailand and the Grand Bahamas (the Grand Bahamas?!), where they are relabeled as Vietnamese, Russian, etc. and shipped to the United States (a practice known as “transshipping”). American companies such as Sue Bee, Silver Bow and Pure Foods that import and distribute the honey seem, at best, willfully ignorant of the practice.

The articles go on to note that even honey labeled “natural” and “organic” isn’t necessarily, as there are few federal standards on what makes honey “organic”. Plus, given that bees will forage for miles, it’s virtually impossible to ensure that a given hives bees don’t come into contact with chemicals somewhere in their travels.

So what’s a honey loving consumer to do? I’ll tell you what to do!

Buy Local Honey!

It makes sense for dozens of reasons. First, if you want to be sure that the honey wasn’t adulterated with antibiotics and pesticides in China before being shipped in a supertanker by way of Russia, buy it from a guy with beeswax under his nails in a farmer’s market. Beekeepers working the farmer’s market are not in it for the money, believe me. There are way easier ways to make a living. If you’re in Seattle, go to the Ballard Sunday market. It’s the best.

But there’s more to buying local than avoiding contaminants. Think about the carbon footprint. What does it take to ship honey from deep in the interior of China to Russia and then to the United States? How much oil is consumed as those cargo ships chug across oceans? When I deliver honey, I deliver it by foot to friends (and occasionally by bicycle).

But there’s something special about local honey, more so than any other food product.

Honey that was produced from flowers in the environment in which you live is better for you by helping you build up immunities to allergies from local pollens. It doesn’t do you a spit of good to get immunities to Chinese pollens or Californian pollens if you’re sneezing in Snohomish.

OK, soapbox moment over. As you were.

(Photo credits: Customs agent by Meryl Schenker / P-I and Local Honey by Melissa_Thinkspace)

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