Chinese Honey Laundering Update

    Three men were arrested in Jacksonville, Florida on smuggling charges this week.  Chin Chou from Taiwan, Qiao Chu from China and Wei-Tang Lo from California successfully imported over 900 containers of Chinese Honey over the past two years which they fraudulently labeled rice fructose.  Once the honey passed customs as rice fructose it was shipped to warehouses where it was relabeled amber honey and sold to U.S. honey companies.  U.S. Customs did seize 123 containers (over 5,000,000 lbs/ 2.27 million kgs.) of falsely labeled Chinese honey at 11 different ports of entry.  The smugglers saved millions on anti-dumping duty ($2.63 per kilo) which was levied against Chinese honey in 2001 to counter heavily subsidized Chinese honey.  American beekeepers unable to compete were being forced out of business.  Chinese honey is ultra filtered to remove pollen which is the only way to trace the origin.  Honey from China  can contain banned antibiotics (health hazard) and heavy metals.  Sweeteners are added to the contaminated honey to mask the acrid taste and smell (
     In 2010 Canada exported $70 million of honey and imported $15 million of honey mostly from the U.S.,  Australia and New Zealand.  I wonder if any of that honey came to this continent as rice fructose.  

The Art of Apiculture

    John Stark, an amazing British artist has created a body of art entitled "Apiculture" (beekeeping).  The theme of anonymous beekeepers engaged in ritual beekeeping is timeless, set somewhere in the past or distant future.  Like most good artwork it  is an ambiguous metaphor who's interpretation is subjective to the observer and evolving over time.  John describes his artwork as “a really nice open metaphor, that can be read in so many different ways. All through the history of literature and art, the beehive has been cited as an example of utopian society, of a selfless existence. Do these hives represent the world? An idealised world? Art, even? Are the keepers the artists, producing the art, or the collectors harvesting the art?”

     The beehives and beekeepers form the narrative instrument to delve into the spiritual existential meaning of life.  "I see painting as a way of being, it is at least a mystical path and I believe in its power as a pursuit for truth where notions of the self are reflected upon. The result is then allegorical for the viewer who projects on to these open narratives traits from their own perception of their reality. The intention is that the works operate as a gateway for us to pass through together (in the metaphysical sense) while simultaneously tapping into the collective unconscious.
I can’t name a direct inspiration for this, although I have been listening to a lot of Buddhist teachings recently and looking at the symbolism from the school of The Fourth Way which refers to a concept used by G.I. Gurdjieff to describe an approach to self-development that helps to realize ones potential by transcending the body and achieving a higher state of consciousness. It is thought that we are living in a waking sleep and there are various ways to focus our attention and energy so that a range of inner abilities become possible. So it’s something inherent and built into the work and these current paintings refer back to ideas explored in my earlier works which attempt to tackle issues of the self, individuation and ‘the spiritual’ by replacing old mythologies and placing myself in the cannon of an art historical context."

     I will never look at beekeeping the same way again.  Check out John Stark's art at his gallery.

The Honey Hunters of Nepal

     In the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal men harvest Himalayan Cliff Bee (Apis Laboriosa) honey as they have for generations.  The Himalayan honey bee, the biggest in the world at up to 3 cm (1.2 inches) is specifically adapted to the harsh climate of the Himalayas.

The Himalayan Cliff Bee Apis Laboriosa

     It nests at altitudes between 2500 and 3000 meters (8200-9800 ft) and forages at altitudes up to 4100 meters (13500 ft).  They have a flight range of 5-14 kilometers (3-9 miles).  This bee builds nests under overhangs on the southwestern faces of vertical cliffs. They are found in Bhutan, India, China and Nepal.

Himalayan Cliff Bee

      The Himalayan Cliff bee migrates for seasonal blossoms and produces three different types of honey: Spring high altitude or red honey; Spring mid to low altitude honey; and Autumn honey.  The Red honey is the most praised because of it's intoxicating or relaxing effects.  It is not consumed locally but exported at five times the price of other honeys to Japan and China for traditional medicinal use.  In Korea some healers are using it to treat drug addiction.  The intoxicating effects come from grayanotoxin present in the nectar of white rhododendrons.

       The ownership and control of honey harvesting has always been in the control of local villages but in many areas because of increased foreign demand control has been turned over to non-traditional harvesters and exporters.  This, along with loss of habitat and the introduction of the European honey bee has caused a tremendous decrease in the Himalayan Cliff bee population.  To view a study on the status of Apis Laboriosa (Himalayan Cliff Bee) go to "The status of Apis Laboriosa in Western Nepal".  The European honey bee has also brought with it a bacteria which causes European Foulbrood (bee disease) to which the Himalayan bee has little resistance.  There are four types of honey bees native to Nepal: Apis Laboriosa; Apis Dorsata (Tropical giant Honey Bee); Apis Florea (Dwarf Honey Bee); and Apis Cerana (Asian Honey Bee).  To view the status of these native bees and the imported Apis Mellifera (European Honey Bee) go to Himalayan Honey Bees and Beekeeping in Nepal.

The Himalayan Honey Bee is aggressive and has never been domesticated as it does not use enclosed cavities for nesting

       The Himalayan Cliff bee is essential for the pollination of high altitude plants and their decreased populations puts these ecosystems in jeopardy.  For the past ten years groups have been working to protect the Himalayan Cliff bee by returning sustainable harvesting control back to the local villages and protecting habitat.  Their habitat has become fragmented due to deforestation.  In recent years bee populations have stabilized and it is hoped that increased income from "Honey harvesting tourism" will be an incentive for young people to learn the traditional harvesting methods of their elders.

Honey Harvesters are stung repeatedly (and I thought my bees were mean) 

    The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has created a "Center of Excellence for Asian Bees" to work with traditional honey hunters and beekeepers to maintain a healthy population of native honey bees and subsequently ensure needed pollination of native plants.
     Although Apis Dorsata, a family of bees which the Himalayan Cliff bee, Apis dorsata laboriosa is a member have never been kept by indigenous people because of it's aggressive nature, open nests and seasonal migration a form of sustainable beekeeping called "Rafter Beekeeping" has begun in Cambodia.  Unlike the traditional honey hunters the Cambodian Rafter beekeepers selectively take only portions of the honey leaving the nest intact.  The bees return year after year.  (Rafter Beekeeping).
     This wonderful film is about an English farmer and beekeeper who travels to Nepal to be part of the traditional, amazing honey harvest of the wild Himalayan Cliff bee.

     I will definitely add this to my bucket list (sustainably).  To check out great honey hunting photos from David Caprara go to The Honey Hunters of Nepal.  To watch honey hunting in Nepal go to Adventure Geo Treks.

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.