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.
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