Nation’s Biggest Honey Packer Admits ‘Laundering’ Honey

We weren’t too surprised to come across this article by NPR last week. Unfortunately, until the U.S. is willing to create a standard of identity for honey, and all honey must be sold with pollen in it in order to be called honey, then this will continue to occur. Currently, most honey on the market today is a highly-filtered and processed sugary syrup, without one grain of pollen in it. This legally passes as honey.

Why will pollen help curb this problem? Because pollen is the footprint of where the bees have been gathering their nectar. If you look at honey under a microscope, you can see tiny grains of pollen that are unique to the honey’s botanical source. So you’ll always know where it came from.

We say all honey that is purchased by U.S. consumers must have pollen in it- that’s how the bees made it!

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Getting Ready to Plant Bee-Friendly Habitats for Spring

As we move into spring, our friends, neighbors and customers are beginning to think about their gardens. Why not consider including bee-friendly plants this year? Our friends at Partners for Sustainable Pollination have some wonderful suggestions, as well as a map of farms all around the U.S that focus on bee-friendly crops and plants.

Consider this, excerpted from the PSP Webs site:

The mysterious phenomenon of all the adult honey bees flying away from the hive, called colony collapse disorder (CCD), thus far does not appear to have a single cause. Researchers believe that colony collapse disorder (CCD) is likely the culmination of an overwhelming number of long term stresses including resistant varroa mites, old wax combs with disease and pesticides, reduced forage and reduced diversity of forage, poor bee nutrition, a depressed honey market, and increased movement of bees around the country that can spread disease and pests. The one common factor found in hives lost to CCD is nutritional stress due to lack of access to natural forage.

The one proven action that can be taken to improve honey bee health is to improve access to high quality and safe forage. Natural forage and nutrition are essential to good honey bee health and to their ability to cope with pests, pathogens and other stressors. Improving forage for honey bees is a proven method of contributing to their health and sustainability. While smaller scale plantings for native bees are helpful, larger scale landscape plantings are needed to adequately meet the nutritional needs of managed honey bee colonies. Special consideration must be given to encouraging plantings of late summer and fall blooming plants to help hives survive through the winter to the next blooming season.

Beekeepers do not own sufficient lands to provide forage for their colonies. They must seek permission from willing landowners to access suitable and safe areas to “pasture” their bees. Historically, beekeepers have had access to bee forage after their bees finish pollinating crops. Over the decades, a combination of forces including urbanization and changes in agricultural practices, such as monoculture and agrochemical choices, has greatly decreased the acreage and sites available to beekeepers, creating a major bee pasture deficit.

Happy spring!

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Poland Bans GMO Corn Thought to be Linked to Colony Collapse

Last month, Poland became the first country to ban the use of Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Corn strain, called MON810, which is linked to bee die-offs

Though no definitive link has been established between this strain of corn and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) which has devastated bee populations around the world, strong scientific evidence is backing the idea that bees are being adversely affected. The thinking goes like this: GMO corn has a pesticide built into it that makes it so farmers don’t have to apply topical pesticides to keep away bugs that would otherwise compete for their crops. The pesticide is intrinsic in the plant, so anytime one of the offending bugs takes a bite out of the corn, they get a lethal dose of the pesticide and die, protecting a farmer’s livelihood.

But the pesticide is also expressed in corn’s pollen, something bees will collect, feed on and store. The idea is that bees are getting a prolonged, continuous exposure to this pesticide through the corn pollen they ingest, and ultimately it becomes acute enough to kill an entire colony.

Bees, after all, are bugs.

Poland has made an important step in the fight against GMO foods. While definitive science is still lacking, the important point is that, like in any scientific evaluation of a problem, a hypothesis is presented and experiments are made to prove or disprove the theory, until all doubt is peeled away and the truth is arrived at.

We have a hunch that the Polish beekeepers’ hypothesis- that GMO corn has a negative effect on bees- is a pretty good one.

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Healing Powers of Honey

Dr. Oz, the health expert discovered and launched into fame by Oprah Winfrey, has surprised us recently by becoming a true champion of honey. We don’t feel the cold much in Hawaii or too much in California, where our honeys are packed and distributed from, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get colds. At Tropical Traders, we’ve been using honey as a natural cold remedy for years, but here are some of Dr. Oz’s recipes and videos that we thought might help you this cold season:

Honey is known to bolster the immune system. A daily dose of honey can help you to feel energetic and stay healthy. It also has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties; if you do develop a sore or scratchy throat, honey will soothe and help heal. Use it in your tea, coffee, plain hot water or by itself. You can even gargle with honey (and lemon) in salt water when the mixture is at room temperature. (Do not give honey to children under 1 year of age.)

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February 01, 2012|By Glenn Yoder

WHO: Marion Nestle

WHAT: On Sunday, the author and New York University professor served on the Let’s Talk About the Farm Bill panel at the Museum of Science, part of their Let’s Talk About Food events. The Farm Bill is up for re-authorization this year. Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor at NYU in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and a professor of sociology, taught a graduate course last semester on the bill. Joining Nestle on the panel was Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine, a member of the Agriculture Committee, who recently introduced the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act for inclusion in the new bill.

Q. How does the farm bill impact consumers?

A. The farm bill determines what the American food system is about, so that on the most personal level it’s responsible for having a great deal to do with how much food costs, what kind of foods get produced, what kind of foods are available, which kinds of foods are promoted and which kinds not, and whether we have large farmers or small farmers or an agricultural system that promotes a healthy population and climate or one that promotes the health of very large corporations.

Q. There have been doubts as to whether the 2012 bill will pass this year. As it’s being revised, what changes would you like to see made to the 2008 bill?

A. I’d like to bring agricultural policy in line with health policy. Health policy tells us that we ought to be making fruits and vegetables inexpensive and relatively easy for Americans to get at a reasonable cost. Instead, what has happened over the years is the relative cost of fruits and vegetables has increased quite a lot and the relative cost of processed foods has gone down. Right now, the farmers who get support payments are forbidden from growing fruits and vegetables. That has to change so that there’s more incentive to grow fruits and vegetables.

Q. What should people understand about the farm bill?

A. From my experience teaching this and talking about it, no one has any idea what the farm bill is about. It’s too complicated for any mind to grasp. We spent a whole semester reading about it and I was kind of stunned at the end at the enormity and complexity of it. And that makes me feel that no legislator can possibly understand what it’s about. And so everybody picks on some little piece of it and thinks that the farm bill is about that little piece. It’s not. The main thing that everybody needs to understand is the huge elephant in the farm bill is food stamps – SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program]. It’s the biggest program in the farm bill, by far, eight times bigger than everything else put together. And it so overpowers everything else that if you look at it from a financial standpoint, you’re talking about nothing in comparison to that, $72 billion last year.

Q. Is there any way to decrease the dependency on food stamps?

A. Get those people jobs. But the food industry loves food stamps. Some astonishing fraction of food stamp money is spent at Walmart – it’s at least a quarter of food stamp money. Walmart is a big supporter of food stamps. Processed food companies and soda companies are big supporters of food stamps. One statistic I would like to know is, what percentage of Walmart employees are on food stamps? I would really like to know that because that means that the government is subsidizing Walmart.

Q. How do you recommend becoming more familiar with the farm bill?

A. I would advise just taking a look at the bill – it’s online – and take a look at the table of contents. It’s breathtaking, just by itself. The scope of the things that are covered, it’s not just farm support. It’s energy policy, forestry, minority farmers, tax policies, insurance. It’s important for the public to understand what it’s about and to understand how extraordinarily political it is. And if people want to do something about the farm bill, they have to get involved in the politics, ugly as they are.

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Why We Need a Standard of Identity for U.S. Honey

Honey as a consumer good is under siege in this country. I don’t know to what extent you may have heard about the myriad problems our industry faces, from Colony Collapse Disorder to the illegal transshipment of Chinese honey into the U.S. While several documentaries have already been made highlighting the former, the incredible underground mafia of honey laundering has yet to be exposed to the U.S. public.
Basically, in 2001 American honey producers got the U.S. government to put a tariff of over 200% on Chinese honey imported in to the U.S. Why? Because the Chinese were flooding the U.S. market with really cheap honey and depressing the market so much that domestic beekeepers couldn’t make a living. The 200%+ tariff was supposed to “level the playing field”. (Interestingly, apparently China has an incredible amount of beekeepers. During the cultural revolution, the Chinese government was looking to give work to its many citizens, and in the very rural parts of the country many farmers were simply given a bicycle and several beehives and thus, a burgeoning industry took hold.) It did level the playing field but not for long: Chinese honey exporters got clever and started sending their drums of honey to third parties such as Malaysia and Thailand, relabeling the drums as if they had been produced there, then shipping them into the U.S., effectively circumventing the tariff.
This transshipping has been going on now for roughly 10 years. It’s bad enough that domestic beekeepers have a hard time making a living, but it’s worse that Chinese honey has been known to contain illegal antibiotics and lead, which are a serious health threat to American consumers.

Melissopalynology (the study of pollen in honey) is what allows us to know if indeed the honey comes from China even if it’s labeled differently. This is because each honey has a pollen “footprint” which indicates its botanical source. Honey from clover flowers will have different-looking pollen grains in it that honey that comes from buckwheat, for example. Unfortunately, most of the honey we buy in supermarkets today has had all the pollen removed from it. Yes, there is no way for anyone to know if it’s Chinese honey or what. It is extremely dubious that most of the honey we eat in this country (the U.S. is a net importer of honey- about 60% of the honey we consume is actually from another country) has no pollen in it.

Consumers are unaware of this issue. They perceive honey as a wholesome product, and a healthful alternative to sugar. But when it’s ultra processed to where it’s heated to high temperatures and pressure filtered to remove all pollen, there are virtually no redeeming qualities to it- you may as well sit down and eat a bag of refined sugar. What’s worse is consumers think they’re getting a healthy product, and they are not!
The hardest part about this whole issue is there is no Federal standard of identity for honey. The U.S. government has been petitioned over and over to adopt a standard, stating what can and cannot be called honey (for example, is honey that has been ultra-processed to the point that there is no more pollen in it- a substance that is naturally imparted to it by the bees themselves- still considered honey?) but they simply don’t consider it a big enough issue to focus on. I think it is the kind of story that many American consumers would like to know about. If enough constituents care, perhaps a standard can be adopted.
What do you think? Post a comment below, we would love to hear from you.
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Specialty Food News Thinks Our Honey is The Bees Knees

Archive Template

The Bees Knees of Honey

The Bees Knees of Honey

Not your average supermarket honeys, these raw and minimally processed products—sourced from around the country and the world—get their complex flavors from the local terroir where the bees feed.

Photography by Mark Ferri; Food styled by Leslie Orlandini; Props styled by Fran Matalon-Degni

by Nicole Potenza Denis

Product Roundup: Honey

Here are 10 products to consider:

Airborne Honey for Kids: For more than a century, Airborne has been operating apiaries in New Zealand producing flavorful and fragrant floral honeys, such as Clover, and healthful honeys, such as the intensely flavored manuka that is high in antioxidants and prebiotics. Airborne Honey for Kids is mild in flavor, making it more palatable for little ones. It also sports a unique cap with a cutoff valve to avoid sticky messes or spills; the honey comes out only when the bottle is squeezed. Airborne donates 10 cents from every bottle sold to the Cholmondeley, a charity that provides short-term care for children in need.

Bella Cucina Lime Blossom Honey: The bees that make Lime Blossom Honey hail from Alba, an organic farming region in northwestern Piedmont, Italy. In the summer months the bees pollinate the flowers of the Tilia Platyphyllos tree, better known as the large-leaved lime tree that grows on lime-rich soil. Neither pasteurized nor micro-filtered, the honey is dense and crystallized, with bright, bold flavors and subtle hints of mint that make it a great accomaniment to herbal tea or fresh fruit. It can be drizzled over fresh ricotta cheesecake or served as a cheese condiment with a rich, smoky blue cheese. Other flavors in the Bella Cucina Organic Artisan Collection include Acacia Flower and Chestnut Blossom Honey.

Catskill Provisions Wildflower Honey: Catskill Provisions’ motto is: “Happy bees make better honey.” Located in the high-altitude Catskill Mountains in New York State, this company produces 100 percent pure, never- heated, raw Wildflower honey. Owner Claire Marin, who turned her beekeeping hobby into a business, harvests a spring honey, which bears the aromas of pear, apple and clover, and a darker autumn honey, with flavors of chestnut and maple. Catskill Provisions honey is featured at many farm-to-table restaurants in New York City and in artisanal cheese and specialty grocery stores across the state. The light honey pairs well with ricotta cheese and yogurt, while the darker honey stands up well to stronger goat cheeses.

Etruria Gourmet Honeydew Honey: The bees that produce this raw organic honey in Central Italy are harvesting not floral nectar but honeydew, the sugar-rich, sticky secretions of aphids that feed on plant sap. Dark and almost black in color, this Honeydew honey emits a fragrance of stewed fruit or molasses and is rich in antioxidants, protein and healthful mineral salts. A standout at a cheese or deli counter, it best complements blue cheeses, pâtés and other charcuterie. Etruria Gourmet also produces Certified Organic Chestnut and Thousand Flowers honey, as well as honey vinegars obtained by double fermentation.

Grampa’s Gourmet Desert Wildflower Honey: A particularly wet year in the Chiricahua desert on the border of New Mexico and Arizona made way for this special honey. Fifth-generation beekeeper Bret Edelen brought his bees here to produce a rare pure mesquite honey. But the excess winter moisture caused some unusual wildflowers to bloom, resulting in this mesquite wildflower honey. This very thick honey is buttery and light, with aromas of baked fruit and coffee, making it perfect for sharp cheddars or blues. To ensure top quality, Edelen follows sustainable farming practices, avoids GMOs and uses integrated pest management whenever possible.

Honey Ridge Farms Black Button Sage Honey: Produced in the coastal ranges of California only four out of every 10 years, Black Button Sage Honey has a complex sweet, clover-like flavor with herbal overtones and a lingering floral and herbal aftertaste. This honey has a non-granulating quality and never crystallizes, making it pour-ready in its convenient squeeze bottle—perfect for soft cheese such as mascarpone or ricotta. All Honey Ridge Farms single-sourced floral varietals—which also include Wild Blackberry, Star Thistle and Pumpkin Blossom from the Pacific Northwest and Orange Blossom from California—are minimally processed: gently warmed, strained and never filtered, preserving the flavor and natural nutrients. The company also makes a honey balsamic vinegar from 100 percent honey; a portion of the profits help fund research to promote bee-colony health.

Mellona Divine Honey Spread Carob: On the southern coast of Cyprus, among citrus and olive groves and vineyards, bees are hard at work pollinating various flora that will result in a blend of blossom honey from varieties of Mediterranean herbs. This family-owned company blends its creamy raw honeys with ingredients indigenous to Cyprus, such as carobs, grapes, almonds and hazelnuts. Blended with traditional haroupomelo (carob syrup), Mellona’s Carob Honey spread has notes of chocolate. It can be drizzled over ricotta or yogurt or blended into hot coffee or tea.

Royal Hawaiian Honey Organic Wililaiki Blossom Honey (formerly Christmas Berry): Bees on the Kona side of the Big Island of Hawaii pollinate the Christmas berry shrub from August to October to create a raw, light amber-color honey with undertones of brown sugar and molasses. Rich in antioxidants, this robust honey is certified organic by the Hawaii Organic Farmers Association. Royal Hawaiian honeys are certified carbon neutral: Through a partnership with, the producer offsets 100 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions generated by the production and shipping of the honey by investing in carbon-reducing projects such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation. This honey’s multi-dimensional taste and texture makes it suitable for tangy goat cheeses or a ham glaze.

Savannah Bee Company Peace Honey: In partnership with Heifer International—a global nonprofit whose mission is to work with communities to end hunger and poverty sustainably—Savannah Bee Company purchases and packages this tropical honey from community beekeeping cooperative projects in Honduras. Bottled under Savannah Bee’s Peace Honey brand, this Honduran rainforest honey is softly sweet with earthy notes. Peace Honey is KSA Kosher Certified. An appropriate companion for pretzel sticks or an unexpected accent in an exotic fruit salad, it also makes a great gift that gives back. For each bottle sold, Savannah Bee Company donates $3 to Heifer International.

Tropical Blossom Tropical Wild Honey: This honey is a blend of gallberry (a type of shrub in the holly family) and saw palmetto honey from Florida’s piney woods and Everglades—areas that are not cultivated, fertilized or tainted with pesticides—and is neither filtered nor cooked. Tropical Wild Honey retains natural pollens and enzymes making it rich in antioxidants. The gallberry mellows out the honey’s sweetness giving it a more balanced flavor with a spicy finish. It is ideal for baking or to add subtle sweetness to hot beverages. Tropical Blossom began hand-packing its Florida honeys in 1940 and is now one of the leading U.S. suppliers of honey with honeycomb. |SFM|

Nicole Potenza Denis is a contributing editor to Specialty Food Magazine.

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Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey

Ultra-filtering Removes Pollen, Hides Honey Origins

by Andrew Schneider | Nov 07, 2011
More than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores isn’t exactly what the bees produce, according to testing done exclusively for Food Safety News.
The results show that the pollen frequently has been filtered out of products labeled “honey.”
The removal of these microscopic particles from deep within a flower would make the nectar flunk the quality standards set by most of the world’s food safety agencies.
The food safety divisions of the  World Health Organization, the European Commission and dozens of others also have ruled that without pollen there is no way to determine whether the honey came from legitimate and safe sources.
honey-without-pollen-food-safety-news1.jpgIn the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says that any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey. However, the FDA isn’t checking honey sold here to see if it contains pollen.
Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen, which is the only foolproof sign identifying the source of the honey. It is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of their honey – some containing illegal antibiotics – on the U.S. market for years.
Food Safety News decided to test honey sold in various outlets after its earlier investigation found U.S. groceries flooded with Indian honey banned in Europe as unsafe because of contamination with antibiotics, heavy metal and a total lack of pollen which prevented tracking its origin.
Food Safety News purchased more than 60 jars, jugs and plastic bears of honey in 10 states and the District of Columbia.
The contents were analyzed for pollen by Vaughn Bryant, a professor at Texas A&M University and one of the nation’s premier melissopalynologists, or investigators of pollen in honey.
Bryant, who is director of the Palynology Research Laboratory, found that among the containers of honey provided by Food Safety News:
• 76 percent of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed, These were stores like TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop and King Soopers.
• 100 percent of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS Pharmacy had no pollen.
• 77 percent of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target and H-E-B had the pollen filtered out.
• 100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smucker, McDonald’s and KFC had the pollen removed.
• Bryant found that every one of the samples Food Safety News bought at farmers markets, co-ops and “natural” stores like PCC and Trader Joe’s had the full, anticipated, amount of pollen.

And if you have to buy at major grocery chains, the analysis found that your odds are somewhat better of getting honey that wasn’t ultra-filtered if you buy brands labeled as organic. Out of seven samples tested, five (71 percent) were heavy with pollen. All of the organic honey was produced in Brazil, according to the labels.

The National Honey Board, a federal research and promotion organization under USDA oversight, says the bulk of foreign honey (at least 60 percent or more) is sold to the food industry for use in baked goods, beverages, sauces and processed foods.  Food Safety News did not examine these products for this story.
Some U.S. honey packers didn’t want to talk about how they process their merchandise.
One who did was Bob Olney, of Honey Tree Inc., in Michigan, who sells its Winnie the Pooh honey in Walmart stores.  Bryant’s analysis of the contents of the container made in Winnie’s image found that the pollen had been removed.
Olney says that his honey came from suppliers in Montana, North Dakota and Alberta. “It was filtered in processing because North American shoppers want their honey crystal clear,” he said.
The packers of Silverbow Honey added: “The grocery stores want processed honey as it lasts longer on the shelves.”
However, most beekeepers say traditional filtering used by most will catch bee parts, wax, debris from the hives and other visible contaminants but will leave the pollen in place.
Ernie Groeb, the president and CEO of Groeb Farms Inc., which calls itself “the world’s largest packer of honey,” says he makes no specific requirement to the pollen content of the 85 million pounds of honey his company buys.
Groeb sells retail under the Miller’s brand and says he buys 100 percent pure honey, but does not “specify nor do we require that the pollen be left in or be removed.”
He says that there are many different filtering methods used by beekeepers and honey packers.
“We buy basically what’s considered raw honey. We trust good suppliers. That’s what we rely on,” said Groeb, whose headquarters is in Onstead, Mich.
Why Remove the Pollen?
Removal of all pollen from honey “makes no sense” and is completely contrary to marketing the highest quality product possible, Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association, told Food Safety News.
food-safety-news-good-honey-sample.jpg“I don’t know of any U.S. producer that would want to do that. Elimination of all pollen can only be achieved by ultra-filtering and this filtration process does nothing but cost money and diminish the quality of the honey,” Jensen said.
“In my judgment, it is pretty safe to assume that any ultra-filtered honey on store shelves is Chinese honey and it’s even safer to assume that it entered the country uninspected and in violation of federal law,” he added.
Richard Adee, whose 80,000 hives in multiple states produce 7 million pounds of honey each year, told Food Safety News that “honey has been valued by millions for centuries for its flavor and nutritional value and that is precisely what is completely removed by the ultra-filtration process.”
“There is only one reason to ultra-filter honey and there’s nothing good about it,” he says.
“It’s no secret to anyone in the business that the only reason all the pollen is filtered out is to hide where it initially came from and the fact is that in almost all cases, that is China,” Adee added.

The Sioux Honey Association, who says it’s America’s largest supplier, declined repeated requests for comments on ultra-filtration, what Sue Bee does with its foreign honey and whether it’s ultra-filtered when they buy it. The co-op markets retail under Sue Bee, Clover Maid, Aunt Sue, Natural Pure and many store brands.
Eric Wenger, director of quality services for Golden Heritage Foods, the nation’s third largest packer, said his company takes every precaution not to buy laundered Chinese honey.

“We are well aware of the tricks being used by some brokers to sell honey that originated in China and laundering it in a second country by filtering out the pollen and other adulterants,” said Wenger, whose firm markets 55 million pounds of honey annually under its Busy Bee brand, store brands, club stores and food service.
“The brokers know that if there’s an absence of all pollen in the raw honey we won’t buy it, we won’t touch it, because without pollen we have no way to verify its origin.”
He said his company uses “extreme care” including pollen analysis when purchasing foreign honey, especially from countries like India, Vietnam and others that have or have had “business arrangements” with Chinese honey producers.
Golden Heritage, Wenger said, then carefully removes all pollen from the raw honey when it’s processed to extend shelf life, but says, “as we see it, that is not ultra-filtration.
“There is a significant difference between filtration, which is a standard industry practice intended to create a shelf-stable honey, and ultra-filtration, which is a deceptive, illegal, unethical practice.”
Some of the foreign and state standards that are being instituted can be read to mean different things, Wenger said “but the confusion can be eliminated and we can all be held to the same appropriate standards for quality if FDA finally establishes the standards we’ve all wanted for so long.”
Groeb says he has urged FDA to take action as he also “totally supports a standard of Identity for honey. It will help everyone have common ground as to what pure honey truly is!”
What’s Wrong With Chinese Honey?
Chinese honey has long had a poor reputation in the U.S., where – in 2001 – the Federal Trade Commission imposed stiff import tariffs or taxes to stop the Chinese from flooding the marketplace with dirt-cheap, heavily subsidized honey, which was forcing American beekeepers out of business.
To avoid the dumping tariffs, the Chinese quickly began transshipping honey to several other countries, then laundering it by switching the color of the shipping drums, the documents and labels to indicate a bogus but tariff-free country of origin for the honey.
Most U.S. honey buyers knew about the Chinese actions because of the sudden availability of lower cost honey, and little was said.
The FDA — either because of lack of interest or resources — devoted little effort to inspecting imported honey. Nevertheless, the agency had occasionally either been told of, or had stumbled upon, Chinese honey contaminated with chloramphenicol and other illegal animal antibiotics which are dangerous, even fatal, to a very small percentage of the population.
Mostly, the adulteration went undetected. Sometimes FDA caught it.

In one instance 10 years ago, contaminated Chinese honey was shipped to Canada and then on to a warehouse in Houston where it was sold to jelly maker J.M. Smuckers and the national baker Sara Lee.
By the time the FDA said it realized the Chinese honey was tainted, Smuckers had sold 12,040 cases of individually packed honey to Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Sara Lee said it may have been used in a half-million loaves of bread that were on store shelves.
Eventually, some honey packers became worried about what they were pumping into the plastic bears and jars they were selling. They began using in-house or private labs to test for honey diluted with inexpensive high fructose corn syrup or 13 other illegal sweeteners or for the presence of illegal antibiotics. But even the most sophisticated of these tests would not pinpoint the geographic source of the honey.

food-safety-news-Vaughn-Bryant-honey-tester.jpgFood scientists and honey specialists say pollen is the only foolproof fingerprint to a honey’s source.
Federal investigators working on criminal indictments and a very few conscientious packers were willing to pay stiff fees to have the pollen in their honey analyzed for country of origin. That complex, multi-step analysis is done by fewer than five commercial laboratories in the world.
But, Customs and Justice Department investigators told Food Safety News that whenever U.S. food safety or criminal experts verify a method to identify potentially illegal honey – such as analyzing the pollen – the laundering operators find a way to thwart it, such as ultra-filtration.
The U.S. imported 208 million pounds of honey over the past 18 months. Almost 60 percent came from Asian countries – traditional laundering points for Chinese honey. This included 45 million pounds from India alone.
And websites still openly offer brokers who will illegally transship honey and scores of other tariff-protected goods from China to the U.S.
FDA’s Lack of Action
The Food and Drug Administration weighed into the filtration issue years ago.
“The FDA has sent a letter to industry stating that the FDA does not consider ‘ultra-filtered’ honey to be honey,” agency press officer Tamara Ward told Food Safety News.
She went on to explain: “We have not halted any importation of honey because we have yet to detect ‘ultra-filtered’ honey. If we do detect ‘ultra-filtered’ honey we will refuse entry.”
Many in the honey industry and some in FDA’s import office say they doubt that FDA checks more than 5 percent of all foreign honey shipments.
For three months, the FDA promised Food Safety News to make its “honey expert” available to explain what that statement meant.  It never happened. Further, the federal food safety authorities refused offers to examine Bryant’s analysis and explain what it plans to do about the selling of honey it says is adulterated because of the removal of pollen, a key ingredient.
Major food safety standard-setting organizations such as the United Nations’ Codex Alimentarius, the European Union and the European Food Safety Authority say the intentional removal of pollen is dangerous because it eliminates the ability of consumers and law enforcement to determine the actual origin of the honey.
“The removal of pollen will make the determination of botanical and geographic origin of honey impossible and circumvents the ability to trace and identify the actual source of the honey,” says the European Union Directive on Honey.
The Codex commission’s Standard for Honey, which sets principles for the international trade in food, has ruled that “No pollen or constituent particular to honey may be removed except where this is unavoidable in the removal of foreign matter. . .”  It even suggested what size mesh to use (not smaller than 0.2mm or 200 micron) to filter out unwanted debris — bits of wax and wood from the frames, and parts of bees — but retain 95 percent of all the pollen.
Food Safety News asked Bryant to analyze foreign honey packaged in Italy, Hungary, Greece, Tasmania and New Zealand to try to get a feeling for whether the Codex standards for pollen were being heeded overseas.  The samples from every country but Greece were loaded with various types and amounts of pollen. Honey from Greece had none.
You’ll Never Know
In many cases, consumers would have an easier time deciphering state secrets than pinning down where the honey they’re buying in groceries actually came from.
The majority of the honey that Bryant’s analysis found to have no pollen was packaged as store brands by outside companies but carried a label unique to the food chain. For example, Giant Eagle has a ValuTime label on some of its honey. In Target it’s called Market Pantry, Naturally Preferred  and others. Walmart uses Great Value and Safeway just says Safeway. Wegmans also uses its own name.
Who actually bottled these store brands is often a mystery.

A noteworthy exception is Golden Heritage of Hillsboro, Kan. The company either puts its name or decipherable initials on the back of store brands it fills.
“We’re never bashful about discussing the products we put out” said Wenger, the company’s quality director. “We want people to know who to contact if they have questions.”
The big grocery chains were no help in identifying the sources of the honey they package in their store brands.
For example, when Food Safety News was hunting the source of nine samples that came back as ultra-filtered from QFC, Fred Myer and King Sooper, the various customer service numbers all led to representatives of Kroger, which owns them all. The replies were identical: “We can’t release that information. It is proprietary.”
food-safety-news-Sue-Bee-honey-ad.jpgOne of the customer service representatives said the contact address on two of the honeys being questioned was in Sioux City, Iowa, which is where Sioux Bee’s corporate office is located.
Jessica Carlson, a public relations person for Target, waved the proprietary banner and also refused to say whether it was Target management or the honey suppliers that wanted the source of the honey kept from the public.
Similar non-answers came from representatives of Safeway, Walmart and Giant Eagle.
The drugstores weren’t any more open with the sources of their house brands of honey. A Rite Aid representative said “if it’s not marked made in China, than it’s made in the United States.” She didn’t know who made it but said “I’ll ask someone.”
Rite Aid, Walgreen and CVS have yet to supply the information.
Only two smaller Pacific Northwest grocery chains – Haggen and Metropolitan Market – both selling honey without pollen, weren’t bashful about the source of their honey. Haggen said right off that its brand comes from Golden Heritage. Metropolitan Market said its honey – Western Family – is packed by Bee Maid Honey, a co-op of beekeepers from the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
Pollen? Who Cares?
Why should consumers care if their honey has had its pollen removed?
“Raw honey is thought to have many medicinal properties,” says Kathy Egan, dietitian at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.  ”Stomach ailments, anemia and allergies are just a few of the conditions that may be improved by consumption of unprocessed honey.”
But beyond pollen’s reported enzymes, antioxidants and well documented anti-allergenic benefits, a growing population of natural food advocates just don’t want their honey messed with.
There is enormous variety among honeys. They range in color from glass-clear to a dark mahogany and in consistency from watery to chunky to a crystallized solid. It’s the plants and flowers where the bees forage for nectar that will determine the significant difference in the taste, aroma and color of what the bees produce. It is the processing that controls the texture.
Food historians say that in the 1950s the typical grocery might have offered three or four different brands of honey.  Today, a fair-sized store will offer 40 to 50 different types, flavors and sources of honey out of the estimated 300 different honeys made in the U.S.. And with the attractiveness of natural food and the locavore movement, honey’s popularity is burgeoning. Unfortunately, with it comes the potential for fraud.
Concocting a sweet-tasting syrup out of cane, corn or beet sugar, rice syrup or any of more than a dozen sweetening agents is a great deal easier, quicker and far less expensive than dealing with the natural brew of bees.
However, even the most dedicated beekeeper can unknowingly put incorrect information on a honey jar’s label.
Bryant has examined nearly 2,000 samples of honey sent in by beekeepers, honey importers, and ag officials checking commercial brands off store shelves. Types include premium honey such as “buckwheat, tupelo, sage, orange blossom, and sourwood” produced in Florida, North Carolina, California, New York and Virginia and “fireweed” from Alaska.
“Almost all were incorrectly labeled based on their pollen and nectar contents,” he said.
Out of the 60 plus samples that Bryant tested for Food Safety News, the absolute most flavorful said “blackberry” on the label. When Bryant concluded his examination of the pollen in this sample he found clover and wildflowers clearly outnumbering a smattering of grains of blackberry pollen.
For the most part we are not talking about intentional fraud here. Contrary to their most fervent wishes, beekeepers can’t control where their bees actually forage any more than they can keep the tides from changing. They offer their best guess on the predominant foliage within flying distance of the hives.
“I think we need a truth in labeling law in the U.S. as they have in other countries,” Bryant added.
FDA Ignores Pleas
No one can say for sure why the FDA has ignored repeated pleas from Congress, beekeepers and the honey industry to develop a U.S. standard for identification for honey.
Nancy Gentry owns the small Cross Creek Honey Company in Interlachen, Fla., and she isn’t worried about the quality of the honey she sells.
“I harvest my own honey. We put the frames in an extractor, spin it out, strain it, and it goes into a jar. It’s honey the way bees intended,” Gentry said.
But the negative stories on the discovery of tainted and bogus honey raised her fears for the public’s perception of honey.
food-safety-news-honey-samples-tested.jpgShe spent months of studying what the rest of the world was doing to protect consumers from tainted honey and questioning beekeepers and industry on what was needed here. Gentry became the leading force in crafting language for Florida to develop the nation’s first standard for identification for honey.
In July 2009, Florida adopted the standard and placed its Division of Food Safety in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in charge of enforcing it.  It’s since been followed by California, Wisconsin and North Carolina and is somewhere in the state legislative or regulatory maze in Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, New York, Texas, Kansas, Oregon, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia and others.
John Ambrose’s battle for a national definition goes back 36 years. He said the issue is of great importance to North Carolina because it has more beekeepers than any other state in the country.
He and others tried to convince FDA that a single national standard for honey to help prevent adulterated honey from being sold was needed. The agency promised him it would be on the books within two years.
“But that never happened,” said Ambrose, a professor and entomologist at North Carolina State University and apiculturist, or bee expert. North Carolina followed Florida’s lead and passed its own identification standards last year.
Ambrose, who was co-chair of the team that drafted the state beekeeper association’s honey standards says the language is very simple, ”Our standard says that nothing can be added or removed from the honey. So in other words, if somebody removes the pollen, or adds moisture or corn syrup or table sugar, that’s adulteration,” Ambrose told Food Safety News.
But still, he says he’s asked all the time how to ensure that you’re buying quality honey.  ”The fact is, unless you’re buying from a beekeeper, you’re at risk,” was his uncomfortably blunt reply.
Eric Silva, counsel for the American Honey Producers Association said the standard is a simple but essential tool in ensuring the quality and safety of honey consumed by millions of Americans each year.
“Without it, the FDA and their trade enforcement counterparts are severely limited in their ability to combat the flow of illicit and potentially dangerous honey into this country,” Silva told Food Safety News.
It’s not just beekeepers, consumers and the industry that FDA officials either ignore or slough off with comments that they’re too busy.
New York Sen. Charles Schumer is one of more than 20 U.S. senators and members of Congress of both parties who have asked the FDA repeatedly to create a federal “pure honey” standard, similar to what the rest of the world has established.
They get the same answer that Ambrose got in 1975:  ”Any day now.”

© Food Safety News

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Tropical Granola Made with Mac Nut Honey Makes a Great Gift

Tropical Granola
(Adapted from Saveur Magazine)
Makes a great gift! See image to right.

10 cups rolled oats
1 cup dried milk
6 cups nuts
5 cups dried, unsweetened coconut flakes
3 tsp. salt
1 to 1.5 cups vegetable oil
1 cup macadamia nut blossom honey
3 tsp. vanilla
2-3 cups currants (add after baking)
Heat oven to 300 degrees

1. Combine dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
2. Add wet ingredients. Hint: add the oil first then pour the honey in that cup. Mix thoroughly.
3. Put it in pans 1-3 inches thick and bake.
4. Use a spatula to turn it every five minutes or so. Like cookies, it’s best to take it out before it seems done. When it feels hot to the touch and is a light golden brown, it’s ready.
5. Add currants

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Royal Hawaiian Honey Guava Chicken

Hawaii is unique in so many ways, and its culinary traditions are no exception. One of my favorite foods is musubi, which is basically fried spam wrapped in sushi rice with nori. According to the What’s Cooking America Web site, Hawaiians eat more spam per capita than any other place on Earth!

So I was delighted to come across the Cooking Hawaiian Style Web site, which has literally thousands of recipes that include unique flavors from the Islands. They were kind enough to prepare a recipe they names Royal Hawaiian Honey Guava Chicken. It looks amazing, so I wanted to share the recipe:


8 Chicken thighs
1 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 5 large lemons)
Coarse kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
fresh cilantro chopped
1/2 cup Royal Hawaiian Lehua honey
1/2 cup guava jam

Cooking Process

Marinate chicken in the lemon juice, salt & pepper in sealable plastic bag, placed in a large bowl, so that if it leaks it will leak into the bowl. Refrigerate several hours to overnight, turning the bag occasionally so that the chicken stays well coated with marinade Drain chicken from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Mix Royal Hawaiian Lehua Honey and guava jam in bowl and microwave for 30-45 seconds. Be careful not to let it buble over or boil. Cook chicken on grill for 15 minutes basting generously with Lehua Honey/Guava Glaze. Be sure to cook chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro for garnish. Serves 4.

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