Five Charged for China-U.S. Honey Smuggling

Five people have been charged in the U.S. for smuggling honey from China to evade $180 million in anti-dumping duties. The investigation that snared them was part of a years-long campaign to protect both beekeepers and honey consumers in America. Phil Mattingly at Bloomberg News:

The charges from the probe, called “Project Honeygate,” mark the culmination of a two-part investigation that began in 2008 and included U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. attorney’s office in the northern district of Illinois. In the first phase, federal authorities charged 14 individuals for allegedly evading about $80 million in anti-dumping duties.

The latest phase of the investigation included an undercover agent, who took a role as director of procurement with a cooperating honey supplier. The resulting investigation led to two of the nation’s largest honey suppliers — Honey Holding and Groeb Farms Inc. — entering into deferred prosecution agreements with the government and paying $1 million and $2 million in fines, respectively.

[…] U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who has pushed federal officials to crack down on counterfeit honey imports, said the “successful sting operation is sure to be a buzz kill for would-be honey smugglers.”

“We need a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to honey laundering,” Schumer said in a statement.

The Associated Press’ Alexa Olesen examined the debate over anti-dumping tariffs and problems associated with honey smuggling in 2010 (via Tom Hancock):

Honey-laundering is just one of many unsavory practices that have besmirched China’s vast honey industry and raised complaints from competing American beekeepers. China produces more honey than anywhere else in the world, about 300,000 metric tons (660 million pounds) a year or about 25 percent of the global total. But stocks are tainted with a potentially dangerous antibiotic and cheaper honeys are increasingly getting passed off as more expensive varieties.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration seized 64 drums of Chinese honey tainted with chloramphenicol, an antibiotic, at a warehouse in Philadelphia. Last year, the agency said two Chinese honey shipments were found to contain the drug, which is approved for medical use but banned in food products because in rare cases it can cause aplastic anemia, a potentially fatal illness.

Experts say quality problems are hard to avoid in a business dominated by small manufacturers, many of whom are poor and uneducated.

[…] “If their bees got sick, the first thing in their mind is saving their bees instead of caring about the quality of honey,” said Wei, a honey dealer from Chengde in central China’s Henan province. “They can’t afford the loss of bees.”

In the more recent case, according to the AFP, ICE deputy director Daniel Ragsdale “was quick to insist there was ‘no health and safety risk’ despite some of the 4,900 barrels of seized honey being adulterated with antibiotics not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.”

Besides the dangers of direct ingestion, agricultural antibiotic use can accelerate the development of drug-resistant bacteria: see recent posts at CDT and IHT Rendezvous.

February 21, 2013 12:00 PM
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