Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chinese Laundered Honey

Beekeeper in Jiyuan City, Henan province
     Is the honey you buy from the super market really honey? Unfortunately that is a question you should be asking. China is by far the largest producer of honey in the world (approximately 300,000 metric tons per year). The Chinese agriculture industry uses pesticides and herbicides banned in most developed countries. The deleterious effects of these chemical additives on humans and bees has been well documented. In one example excessive use of pesticides in pear orchards wiped out entire bee populations in parts of Sichuan Province where they now must pollinate by hand (we ain't that good at it).

Pollination in China : farmers in orchard pollinating
Farm workers in Sichuan, China pollinating pear and apple trees by hand
    Chinese beekeepers are known to use antibiotics (to treat bee diseases) banned in most developed countries because of health concerns. One of these anti-biotics is chloramphenicol which is the drug of choice in third world countries because it is cheap and easy to manufacture. Chloramphenicol is known to cause aplastic anmenia, bone marrow suppression and childhood leukimia. These antibiotics used by the Chinese beekeepers seep into the honey and contaminate it. Heavy metals, probably from lead containers used to store the honey have been found in tested Chinese honey.  To mask the acrid smell and taste of this contaminated honey they mix in sugar, corn syrup, rice syrup or malt sweeteners.

     In 2001 the U.S. Commerce Department imposed a $1.20/lb anti-dumping tariff on imported Chinese honey because American beekeepers were being forced out of business by cheap, heavily subsidized Chinese honey. The Chinese honey was selling for 25 cents/lb while North American beekeepers needed $1.50/lb to break even. To counteract this Chinese honey producers began using ultra-filtering methods to conceal the origin of their honey. Prior to this ultra-filtering was not used by the world's honey manufacturers. Ultra-filtering is a high tech process where the honey is heated, sometimes dilluted and forced at high pressure through micro filters to remove microscopic particles including pollen which is the only way of identifying the origin of the honey.

     Bee pollen has been used by many cultures including the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks for it's health benefits and therapeutic properties. Bee pollen has a higher density of protein than any animal source and is a concentrated source of b vitamin complex (provides energy). It also contains vitamins A,C,D,E,selenium,lecithin and powerful phytochemicals (carotenoids and bioflavonoids) making it a potent antioxidant (important in cancer prevention). Chinese medicine has recognized bee pollen benefits for thousands of years.

     The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says any product so ultra-filtered to not contain pollen is not honey. The World Health Organization, European Commission and other health organizations state the only way to determine the legitimate and safe source of honey is through the pollen. More than 75% of honey sold in stores in North America was found to have no pollen meaning it was ultra-filtered. The only reason to ultra-filter honey is to hide it's origin.


     This ultra-filtered honey is laundered through other Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and now the country of choice, India.

Chinese laundered honey sold through India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia and Thailand

    This is one example of a German company laundering cheap Chinese honey through other countries.  The company imported millions of pounds of honey by disguising it's origins.  To read more about this go to "The Honey Trap" .


     A South Dakota beekeepers' battle against honey laundering.

     A senior figure in the Australian Honey industry had his car's brakes tampered with and received death threats after exposing Chinese honey laundering to the U.S. through Australia.  A number of arrests have been made of honey launderers in the U.S. and Europe with no effect on the supply of laundered honey.
     Honey is used in countless processed foods like cereals, granola and cookies and until governments implement honey standards that include unfiltered pollen and testing for contaminants  the only safe place to buy honey is from your local beekeeper.
     What can you do?  Check out "True Source Honey", a good updated information base for ethically and non ethically produced honey ( or better still buy locally.  The best policy always is to buy from your local farmer and beekeeper.

My honey.  Safe and tasty.


  1. Submitted on 2011/11/21 at 1:42 pm
    I think you’re right that Canada is safer than the U.S. which is a major honey importer. In 2010 Canada exported $70 million of honey mostly to the U.S. and Germany and imported $15 million of honey mostly from Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. I wonder if the CFIA tests for the presence of pollen and what countries are suspected of shipping “funny honey”. Honey launderers are using new countries like Australia. It is also my understanding that less than 5% of imported honey is tested.

  2. Also, my understanding is that the CFIA tests certified honey packaging facilities for overall sanitation not the actual honey. The CFIA "encourages" facilities to test their imported honey (As part of the Good Importing Practices for Food (GIP), importers are encouraged to implement a quality assurance program to help them ensure the products they import comply with Canadian regulations. For laboratory testing, it is recommended to use laboratories accredited by the Standards Council of Canada (SCC), or to ISO/IEC 17025, General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories.). It also states that due to poor compliance of this testing in the past they "may" test honey from suspect countries ( Canadian honey packagers mix domestic honey with imported honey. They are encouraged but not forced to test imported honey. The CFIA tests only a small amount of imported honey from suspect countries.


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