The U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday that it has seized more than 10,000 gallons of counterfeit honey from a warehouse in Salem. What was it doing there? And where was it headed?
I read through the affidavit from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent on the investigation, and the details are scant on the Salem connection between the Chicago port where the honey allegedly came into the U.S. from Hong Kong, the Wisconsin warehouses where it was initially shipped and the Salem warehouse where it was seized.
The case appears to be part of the push to launder tainted and diluted Chinese honey and sell it into the U.S. with false inspection labels from other countries. The Salem seizure is part of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. attorneys of Oregon and Illinois and the Department of Homeland Security.
The Capital Press reports:
“The counterfeit honey, which is a compound malt sweetener, allegedly was imported from Hong Kong in October 2009 by Eastern Commodity Co. It was then shipped to a warehouse in Wisconsin.
According to an affidavit, the warehouse received e-mails directing it to remove Chinese inspection stickers from the drums, apparently to conceal their Chinese origin.
The affidavit alleges the drums eventually were shipped to two different honey packers in the Midwest, along with paperwork falsely describing the malt sweetener as honey from Thailand.
The honey packers rejected the drums, which were eventually shipped to the Salem warehouse.”
The problem of Chinese honey smuggling (one of my top 10 foodie stories) stems from the fact that the U.S. consumes a lot more honey than it produces.
China is a big producer of honey, but it uses antibiotics to keep its bees healthy that the U.S. doesn’t like to see in any of its products. One in particular, chloramphenicol, can be deadly to some people, which is why it is banned from food products in the U.S. Chinese honey producers inject some honey with water, heat it, filter it and distill it into syrup, which wipes out antibiotics but turns it into a diluted, less valuable product that can be sold below the price of regular honey production. Hence, there are also steep tariffs placed on the Chinese product to protect domestic beekeepers.
To avoid tariffs and food safety regulations, honey handlers in Asia “wash” Chinese products in a network of other countries, adding new packaging and labels to mask its origin before shipping it to the U.S. Sometimes the Chinese honey is deliberately mislabeled as molasses, fructose or glucose syrup to mask the numbers of honey shipments coming into the U.S.
The smuggling is seen as a threat to U.S. beekeepers and their crops of pollinators, whose numbers are noticeably and mysteriously dwindling.
According to a 2008 Seattle P-I investigation, the Pacific Northwest is a landing pad for smuggled honey imports.
A series of seizures and arrests were made in an alleged international honey trade conspiracy in 2008, and in September, a grand jury indicted 11 executives and six foreign companies in the resulting food fraud case.