The Seattle P.I. reports that “two-thirds of the honey Americans consume is imported and almost half of that, regardless of what’s on the label, comes from China.” The first problem with that is some Chinese honey is “tainted with banned antibiotics” such as ciprofloxacin and chloramphenicol. The second problem, according to U.S. honey producers who are upset about the lack of oversight, is that whenever contaminated honey is discovered, many companies just sent it back to the importer and never tell the FDA—which means it can be resold elsewhere, including to other U.S. packers.
Bill Allibone, Sue Bee’s president, said the company has no intention of telling government regulators about the bad honey it finds.
It’s not really Sue Bee’s honey, he said, “because technically, it’s still (the importer’s) property until we pay for it.
“We have not notified the FDA in the past because we don’t have title to that property,” Allibone said.
“We deal with a core group of suppliers that have long, established ties in the import business, and we’re assuming that when we reject a load of honey, they’ll return it to the people they purchased it from.”
The National Honey Board, an industry trade group created by the USDA, says it’s not their job to monitor the safety of imported honey:
“It’s not something we do,” he said. “We have no knowledge about any bad honey out there. That’s not our job, and we never get reports of problems.”
But in 2006, he sent an e-mail to honey board members, warning that tainted honey had been found in stores. In his warning, Boynton wrote that the industry had tested samples taken from products on supermarket shelves and found illegal levels of antibiotics.
“Two samples tested positive for ciprofloxacin at the level of 14.07 (parts per billion) and 5.61 ppb,” Boynton wrote.
In a recent interview, Boynton initially denied any knowledge of the warning. He stressed that the board is “not a regulatory agency” and has no obligation to notify health agencies of potential hazards.
It seems that local honey producers are the ones sounding the alarm, and they may be doing this partly to stem anticompetitive practices from larger companies. But really, we’re fine with that; the past couple of years of food safety failures have made it fairly clear that every food safety issue should be taken seriously.
“Honey Laundering: Tainted product still slips easily into U.S.” [Seattle PI]