Honey Lovers Beware of Illegally Imported Honey!

Photo: Subbatino Anna/Courtesy Flotilla

As a honey lover I was sad to learn about one-third of the available honey may be illegally imported and may contain harmful additives like lead.  A recent Food Safety News Report exposed illegally imported honey and the health risks associated with some imported honey.  Honey has so many wonderful qualities making it a healthy alternative to skin salve as well as a healthy food product.

You might have heard about diminishing bee colonies and may have not thought much about it, but the decreased bee population has led to lower domestic availability and a higher value for imported honey.  Unfortunately there are health risks associated with this honey that you should know.

From Susan Melgren and Natural Home Magazine:

Honey has many benefits. It can soothe coughs and colds, help keep skin moisturized and youthful looking, and naturally sweeten foods without causing a spike in blood sugar. But honey is only as good as its source, and a recent Food Safety News report shows that up to one-third of all honey in the U.S. is likely to have been smuggled in from China. As Chinese honey has serious health violations surrounding it, this is cause for concern.

In the early 2000s Chinese beekeepers began using animal-made antibiotics to fight a deadly widespread disease that was killing off tens of millions of bees. Chloramphenicol, one of the antibiotics used, causes DNA damage in children and is potentially carcinogenic. The Food and Drug Administration banned the use of cholarmphenicol in food shortly after Chinese beekeepers started using it. (Although the amount of cholarmphenicol found in imported Chinese honey is minimal, health experts say that even these small dosages can cause severe reactions in one out of 30,000 people.) Imported Chinese honey is also high in lead. While China’s honey processing plants are state-of-the art modern facilities, China’s beekeepers still use old-fashioned methods, including collecting honey in unlined, lead-soldered drums. To top off the list of problems, some imported honey isn’t actually honey at all, but a mix of artificial sweeteners with a bit of real honey thrown in to fool inspectors!

Because China can’t legally sell its honey to the U.S., it transships the honey through India, using falsified shipping documents and simple tricks such as painting over shipping drums to con customs agents. According to Food Safety News, within the last month, 16 shipments totaling more than 688,000 pounds of honey were shipped from China to India; six of those shipments were then forwarded on to the port of Los Angeles. Although the honey is illegal in the U.S., many of the country’s biggest honey packers will knowingly buy the imported honey.

After finding traces of antibiotics and lead in shipments of honey from India, the European Union banned all shipments of honey from India. Meanwhile, the FDA remains mute on the subject. Unfortunately, America’s beekeepers can’t produce enough honey to supply the country’s needs, making the U.S. dependent on imported honey.

To ensure that your honey isn’t tainted with lead and antibiotics, buy your honey from a local source and talk with the beekeeper about his or her bee raising methods. To find local honey in your area, visit LocalHarvest’s local honey page where you can search for honey by state, city or ZIP code.

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