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Honey, I Shrunk the Tariff
December 6, 2012 3:55 PM   Subscribe

"Honey laundering is a complex exercise that involves several players in the honey chain from apiary to wholesaler to retailer. In the case against ALW, evidence was presented to show the use of fake country-of-origin documents for shipments, replacement of labels on Chinese containers with fraudulent ones, switching of honey containers in a third country, and even the blending of Chinese honey with glucose syrup or honey from another country."
posted by vidur (37 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have a friend who gives me honey from her family apiary outside of Milwaukee. If I find out that she means her family in Milwaukee China I'm gonna be so pissed.

Snark aside, this is simultaneously obvious and astonishing.
posted by mcstayinskool at 4:04 PM on December 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


I know of the black market in olive oil, but honey?
Is there no foodstuff that's not tainted by the underworld?
posted by Mezentian at 4:04 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Article says the honey is being rebranded as from India. This is interesting, as the EU has banned import of honey first from China, and then from India due to antibiotic and heavy metal contamination. Maybe the Indian honey was still the same Chinese honey.

No idea on the PPM of said contaminants.

Honey is a good thing to buy local, so do it!
posted by curious nu at 4:06 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Previously)
posted by hattifattener at 4:08 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is why I only purchase artisanal, organic, fair trade, locally sourced honey from my local co-op.
posted by indubitable at 4:12 PM on December 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Man, I bet this ruins dryers like nobody's business.
posted by boo_radley at 4:18 PM on December 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


The only reason I use honey other than taste is for it's apocraphyl ability to help you develop protection against local allergies since local pollen was used.

Don't really believe it (haven't seen much of a difference) but it gives me a reason to justify 6.00 for a small container from a local apiary.
posted by emjaybee at 4:24 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sting operation?

/Bee Chama Honey FTW. Love love love their carrot honey.
posted by azpenguin at 4:34 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Imma let you finish, but lehua is the best honey ever.
posted by zippy at 4:55 PM on December 6, 2012


indubitable: This is why I only purchase artisanal, organic, fair trade, locally sourced honey from my local co-op.

That's what you think you purchase, but it's hard to know, with these black-market arrangements. Even if that's what the co-op thinks it is buying, the supplier could be lying to them. Yes, even a local supplier.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:01 PM on December 6, 2012


Honey is definitely not something I use enough of that it's prohibitively expensive to buy local. Plus any anti-allergy elements of the honey are dependent on it being pollinated locally, and supporting local makes sense whenever you can anyway, so that's all I do. It's also astonishing how much more flavorful local/raw honey is vs. mysterious bear honey.
posted by disillusioned at 5:14 PM on December 6, 2012


Buying local is definitely one solution, but for those of us who have >0% of our meals from restaurants and cafeterias I find myself wondering how much gray-market material ends up at Sodexo and Sysco. If you were a supplier for them, you'd be operating with razor thin profit margins right from the start, and Chinese & Indian sources might look pretty darn good.
posted by crapmatic at 5:17 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


yeah, if you're getting honey in a squeeze pack in dennys, it's basically honey-flavoured sugar. But then again... you're already in dennys.
posted by GuyZero at 5:22 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


For more info, there are few more mefi posts about honey laundering:
http://www.metafilter.com/contribute/search.mefi?site=mefi&q=honey+laundering
posted by mulligan at 5:26 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


That reminds me, I need to make mead sometime.

But it sounds like I should skip the middleman and just dump some Karo Light Syrup in the carboy.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:32 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Honey and maple syrup, why buy anything other than legit?
posted by Grandysaur at 5:46 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Man, I bet this ruins dryers like nobody's business.

Like you wouldn't bee-leave, I think you mean.

Bonus: Where did Noah keep his bees? In the Arc-Hives!

Oh, the librarian humor!

posted by GenjiandProust at 5:49 PM on December 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


This is why I only purchase artisanal, organic, fair trade, locally sourced honey from my local co-op.

Heh. I buy my honey from a dude named Dale who lives way the hell out in the country and would cuss me out as a gol-durn communiss if I called him "artisanal", but same difference.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:23 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Having produced really decent mead myself over the years, I can tell you, don't do the Karo Syrup thing. Also don't do maple syrup 'mead'. It will not delight your taste-buds.
I get my honey locally, except for sometimes getting Bulgarian acacia honey.
Being a in strong agricultural area, I feel I can trust the local honey. I get it from a guy I know at the Farmer's Market.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:27 PM on December 6, 2012


First time I read about this I was skeptical, another crunchy overwrought article. Then I was in a good grocery store and started to read the labels. "Made in Argentina and Canada", what? Those are some long distance hives... But there were no labels with a straight source. Don't buy unless you've met the bees personally.
posted by sammyo at 6:45 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


This just goes to show how stupid and anti-competitive artificial trade barriers are. Producers are responding to the incentives.
posted by wilful at 6:53 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


What should disturb you is that the crime here is dodging import duties. The part about deceiving consumers is not a crime any part of your government cares about.
posted by srboisvert at 7:02 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


My first, and basically only, experience knowingly buying Chinese honey was way back in the early 1980s when Trader Joe's was selling great huge tins, maybe 4 lbs., of some kind of incredibly strong dark Chinese honey they had scored in their usual mysterious way. I might have developed a taste for it if it weren't for the fact that I mixed it with raw milk to make some kind of custard and was sick as a dog for most of a night afterwards. (I'd been using the honey, so the milk was the food-poisoning culprit.)

If I just wanted bulk sweetener I'd use molasses or sorghum before buying cheap and possibly adulterated imported honey. The real reason for buying imported honey is to get a taste you can't get otherwise, such as Australian ironbark honey, which is amazing stuff. Or if you're an Aussie I imagine you might buy US Southwestern mesquite honey on the same principle.
posted by Creosote at 7:47 PM on December 6, 2012


Okay, all of you saying you buy your honey locally . . . have you asked your guy/gal whether they actually keep their bees locally, or whether they send them out? Because I live in a very rural, agricultural area where there would be absolutely no reason not to think that the honey branded [name of local town] Honey Bees would not actually be produced locally, but I asked anyway and the guy said yeah, he sends all his bees to California. It's a big commercial operation, you pay some big outfit to take your bees down there and return them to you with, I guess, the hives full of honey. It's not Chinese. But it ain't local.
posted by HotToddy at 8:27 PM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


When I buy honey, I don't care if it's from China or from next door. I have driven on winding, forested mountain roads in China where every few hundred meters one passes another peasant apiary enclave. I'd be happy to have some of that honey. Shady merchants trying to dodge tariffs are a distant concern.

But I do want to know that I'm getting 100% unadulterated honey. Strict labeling laws would be a good start; as I understand it (via my mother, a hobbyist beekeeper), there's currently no requirement to include "natural" additives like sugar in the ingredients list.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:31 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


the guy said yeah, he sends all his bees to California. It's a big commercial operation, you pay some big outfit to take your bees down there and return them to you with, I guess, the hives full of honey. It's not Chinese. But it ain't local.

Wut? How is that cost-effective for him??
posted by lollusc at 11:32 PM on December 6, 2012


You put a whole bunch of hives on a truck. The truck drives down to California. Farmers pay you to put the hives in their fields for a while. Then you put them back on the truck and drive 'em back. The beekeeper pays you for feeding the bees. It doesn't sound unworkable to me; none of those are exotically difficult activities.
posted by hattifattener at 11:57 PM on December 6, 2012


The town I live in actually has an initiative to protect bee diversity and habitats. We have two guys selling honey from their hives at the farmers market. It is all local. Beekeeping is a big hobby around here.
posted by vacapinta at 1:19 AM on December 7, 2012


Bee traveling like that is probably getting much more common, with the hive death problem of late. Big demand, supply that can't grow properly to meet it.

Note that this huge trade in 'smuggled' honey is also a clear indicator that the honey was not, in fact, being dumped, and that the tariffs are wrong. Even swapping it through all those other middlemen, each of whom raises the price as it's sold onward, imported honey is still much cheaper than local.

We might want to ban Chinese honey for safety/health reasons, but the tariff is probably wrong, imposed under false pretenses.
posted by Malor at 3:56 AM on December 7, 2012


Oh, and:

But I do want to know that I'm getting 100% unadulterated honey

Well, god only knows what the Chinese farmers are spraying on their fields, and what pollution is coming out of smokestacks and mixing with the pollen. Heavy-metals contamination seems more likely to come from air pollution than some factor in processing the honey.

That would mean that the peasant hives might be MORE dangerous than the processed stuff, because presumably some of their hives will be badly polluted, where others are totally clear, and the processing mixes them all together into moderately tainted honey. Chinese peasant honey might be just wonderful, or it might have a bunch of lead or mercury or something in it, and you're unlikely to have any way to detect which is which.
posted by Malor at 4:02 AM on December 7, 2012


I myself keep an apiary. Filled with apes.

You don't want their honey. You really don't.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 7:24 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was already aware of the Chinese honey (and not honey) making its way onto the big supermarket shelves and always avoided those brands.

However, I just looked at the Whole Foods brand, 365 Organic Honey I bought recently. It says "Product of Brazil and India". Dammit!
posted by orme at 8:31 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


You put a whole bunch of hives on a truck. The truck drives down to California. Farmers pay you to put the hives in their fields for a while. Then you put them back on the truck and drive 'em back. The beekeeper pays you for feeding the bees. It doesn't sound unworkable to me; none of those are exotically difficult activities.

Yes, this is how it works.
posted by HotToddy at 11:33 AM on December 7, 2012


My brother-in-law keeps bees. Advantage: I get pure, unadulterated honey from my wife's childhood stomping grounds. Disadvantage: I get to help with the process occasionally. But that's how I know it's pure.
posted by Harald74 at 8:12 AM on December 8, 2012


It doesn't sound unworkable to me; none of those are exotically difficult activities.

No, I understand that. I don't understand why it is cost effective for the farmer to ship his/her hives elsewhere and have them returned full of honey, compared to the option of just leaving them in place (for free). Is it because the bees would not be able to find pollen locally? I can't imagine that. Or is it because the farmer doesn't have enough land to keep the hives on? That doesn't make sense either, since I assume the hives have to be unloaded from the trucks onto some land afterwards.
posted by lollusc at 12:49 AM on December 9, 2012


No, I understand that. I don't understand why it is cost effective for the farmer to ship his/her hives elsewhere and have them returned full of honey, compared to the option of just leaving them in place (for free). Is it because the bees would not be able to find pollen locally? I can't imagine that. Or is it because the farmer doesn't have enough land to keep the hives on? That doesn't make sense either, since I assume the hives have to be unloaded from the trucks onto some land afterwards.

Farmers hire beekeepers to put hives in their fields for a while when the crops are getting to the point where they are ready to be pollinated. The farmer gets a higher crop yield, the beekeeper gets money and different varieties of honey than they otherwise would if they just left the hives in their own fields. It's a win-win. There is a bit of logistics involved, but these guys do it all the time and it's no big deal to them. Beekeepers will also move hives to areas with types of plants that have pollen they want; different pollen means different honey flavors. (If you've never had honey from a hive that was pollinating wild blackberries... that stuff is a treat.)

Here's a site that shows some of what beekeepers do to move hives: Commercial beekeepers and moving hives.
posted by azpenguin at 9:58 AM on December 9, 2012


Is it because the bees would not be able to find pollen locally? I can't imagine that.
Yes this is actually it. Commercial apiarists are chasing the resource, nectar. 40 or more hives would strip all the nectar from an area quickly, and the bees would starve, or at least not make much honey. So they ship them around the country chasing the flow, all the time. In summer they could move them every week, in winter where there aren't the flowers anywhere, they will supplementary feed them (and many bees will die).
posted by wilful at 5:12 PM on December 10, 2012


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