Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Messing With Winnie the Pooh's Jar

Pirated CD's, poisonous toys, tainted baby honey.

In the U.S., where bee colonies are dying off and demand for imported honey is soaring, traders of the thick amber liquid are resorting to elaborate schemes to dodge tariffs and health safeguards in order to dump cheap honey on the market, a five-month Seattle P-I investigation has found.

The business is plagued by foreign hucksters and shady importers who rip off conscientious U.S. packers with honey diluted with sugar water or corn syrup -- or worse, tainted with pesticides or antibiotics.

Guess where most of it originates?

Big shipments of contaminated honey from China are frequently laundered in other countries -- an illegal practice called "transshipping" -- in order to avoid U.S.import fees, protective tariffs or taxes imposed on foreign products that intentionally undercut domestic prices.

Some of it is pretty blatant.

Countries that have few if any commercial beekeepers, such as Singapore, are now exporting significant quantities of honey, records show. That includes the Grand Bahamas, which has been listed as the country of origin for honey shipped into Houston, authorities say. "I have a difficult time seeing the Grand Bahamas as a major honey producer," said David Westervelt, a Florida state apiculture inspector. "It's an island. You move bees on there and they'll die."

There are attempts to stop it.

An alphabet soup of federal agencies insist that they work tirelessly to prevent adulterated honey from reaching store shelves.


Most honey shipments aren't inspected when they arrive at a U.S. seaport, or when they cross the border by truck or train.

A customs supervisor on the U.S.-Canada border, who asked not to be identified, disputed the notion that stopping honey smugglers is a top concern. "Honey is not only not near the top of the list of priorities," he said, "it's just not on the damn list."

Hat Tip to The Daily Beast