Sunday, November 13, 2011

It seems much of our honey is contaminated

I hate to read that much of the honey sold in the USA is suspect. CNN reports:

Most of the honey sold in chain stores across the country doesn't meet international quality standards for the sweet stuff, according to a Food Safety News analysis released this week.

One of the nation's leading melissopalynologists analyzed more than 60 jugs, jars and plastic bears of honey in 10 states and the District of Columbia for pollen content, Food Safety News said. He found that pollen was frequently filtered out of products labeled "honey."

"The removal of these microscopic particles from deep within a flower would make the nectar flunk the quality standards set by most of the world's food safety agencies," the report says. "Without pollen there is no way to determine whether the honey came from legitimate and safe sources."

. . .

An earlier Food Safety News investigation found that at least a third of all the honey consumed in the United States was likely smuggled from China and could be tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals.

There's more at the link.

This report worries me, because I regard honey as one of the healthiest foods out there, and I'm aware of the long history of problems with Chinese foods being contaminated - sometimes deliberately adulterated - with chemicals. (For example, I shopped for fish a couple of weeks ago, only to find that most of the frozen fish filets in the supermarket freezer were produced in China. Needless to say, in the light of the melamine scandal there a few years ago, I didn't buy any!) I therefore looked for more information about foreign honey imports, and found the original article referred to by CNN at Food Safety News. Here's an extract from their very long report.

The U.S. consumes about 400 million pounds of honey a year - about 1.3 pounds a person. About 35 percent is consumed in homes, restaurants and institutions. The remaining 65 percent is bought by industry for use in cereals, baked goods, sauces, beverages and hundreds of different processed foods.

However, the USDA says U.S. beekeepers can only supply about a 48 percent of what's needed here. The remaining 52 percent comes from 41 other countries.

Import Genius, a private shipping intelligence service, searched its databases of all U.S. Customs import data for Food Safety News and provided a telling breakdown:

  • The U.S. imported 208 million pounds of honey over the past 18 months.
  • About 48 million pounds came from trusted and usually reliable suppliers in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Uruguay and Mexico.
  • Almost 60 percent of what was imported - 123 million pounds - came from Asian countries - traditional laundering points for Chinese honey. This included 45 million pounds from India alone.

. . .

Chinese beekeepers saw a bacterial epidemic of foulbrood disease race through their hives at wildfire speed, killing tens of millions of bees. They fought the disease with several Indian-made animal antibiotics, including chloramphenicol. Medical researchers found that children given chloramphenicol as an antibiotic are susceptible to DNA damage and carcinogenicity. Soon after, the FDA banned its presence in food.

. . .

European health authorities found lead in honey bought from India in early 2010. A year later, the Indian Export Inspection Council tested 362 samples of honey being exported and reported finding lead and at least two antibiotics in almost 23 percent of the test samples.

The discovery of lead in the honey presents a more serious health threat.

"The presence of heavy metals is a totally different story, because heavy metals are accumulative, they are absorbed by organs and are retained. This is especially hazardous for children," Phipps said.

All the bans, health concerns and criticism of Indian honey hasn't slowed the country's shipping of honey to the U.S. and elsewhere. In February, India's beekeepers and its government agricultural experts said that because of weather and disease in some colonies, India's honey crop would be late and reduced by up to 40 percent.

Yet two months later, on April 15 in Ludhiana, officials of Kashmir Apiaries Exports and Little Bee Group, India's largest honey exporters, posed for newspaper photographers in front of "two full honey trains" carrying 180 20-foot cargo carriers with a record 8.8 million pounds of honey headed for the export ports.

"They're clearly transshipping honey from China and I can't believe that they are so brazen about it to put it right on the front page of a newspaper," honey producer Adee said.

Data received by FSN from an international broker in India on Friday showed that within the last month 16 shipments - more than 688,000 pounds - of honey went from the Chinese port of Nansha in Guangzhou China to Little Bee Honey in India. The U.S. gurus of international shipping documents - Import Genius - scanned its database and found that just last week six shipments of the honey went from Little Bee to the port of Los Angeles. The honey had the same identification numbers of the honey shipped from China.

Government investigators in the U.S. and Europe and customs brokers in India told FSN that previous successful criminal investigations had proven that the Chinese honey suppliers and their brokers are masterful at falsifying shipping documents.

Each of the shipments - whether from China or India - bore an identical FDA inspection number. However, FDA's Division of Import Operations did not respond to requests for information on how and where it issued that FDA number.

Food Safety News left several messages for the Little Bee Group to discuss the source of their honey and how they were breaking records when the rest of India's honey producers were months behind schedule. None of the phone messages or emails were returned.

Other major Indian honey exporters insist that India gets no honey from China. However, Liu Peng-fei and Li Hai-yan of the prestigious Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences disagree. In a scientific study of the impact the global financial crisis is having on China's honey industry, the apiculture scientists wrote that to avoid the "punitive import tariffs" Chinese enterprises "had to export to the United States via India or Malaysia in order to avoid high tariffs..."

. . .

At June's conference of the Institute of Food Technologists in New Orleans, there were hundreds of Chinese vendors working in small clusters beneath bright red banners. They offered for sale almost any spice, food-processing substance or additives a food processor might want and promises of concocting anything else they could dream of. "All FDA approved," they emphasized to potential clients.

One salesman quickly jerked back his business card when a reporter pulled out a tape recorder to capture the man's promises offering a "nanoparticle sweetener for honey that cannot be detected."

Again, more at the link.

I'm seriously worried about this. Honey is beloved by many kids, and the chances of their ingesting harmful quantities of some very nasty additives are just too high right now. I'm going to buy honey only from local producers, whom I know bottle their own product right on their farms, or from companies like Trader Joes, which source honey from local suppliers. I hope you, dear readers, will do likewise.



Tom Stedham said...

I live in Miami. I started buying my honey from a local grower. I have looked at his bees and watched him put honey in jars...

We have to get people educated to CHECK LABELS!!!

thanks for a great informative post!

Douglas2 said...

I've started eating LOTS of honey because of the purported anti-allergy effects. To get the anti-allergy effects, however, one must eat honey from local beed with the local pollen.

So I've been off supermarket honey and onto local small-source beekeepers for a while.

Don't give up honey, just find a local source.

Firehand said...

Also, I've read that 'pure' honey can have some percentage of corn syrup added; I've been getting raw honey from local places.