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A Food Safety News investigation has documented that millions of pounds of honey banned as unsafe in dozens of countries are being imported and sold here in record quantities. And the flow of Chinese honey continues despite assurances from the Food and Drug Administration and other federal officials that the hundreds of millions of pounds reaching store shelves were authentic and safe following the widespread arrests and convictions of major smugglers over the last two years.
Experts interviewed by Food Safety News say some of the largest and most long-established U. Food safety investigators from the European Union barred all shipments of honey from India because of the presence of lead and illegal animal antibiotics.
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Further, they found an even larger amount of honey apparently had been concocted without the help of bees, made from artificial sweeteners and then extensively filtered to remove any proof of contaminants or adulteration or indications of precisely where the honey actually originated. The co-op did not respond to repeated calls and emails for comment.
Calls and emails to other major honey sellers also were unreturned.
But on this side of the ocean, the FDA checks few of the thousands of shipments arriving through 22 American ports each year. According to FDA data, between January and June, just 24 honey shipments were stopped from entering the country. The agency declined to say how many loads are inspected and by whom.
However, during that same period, the U. Department of Agriculture reported that almost 43 million pounds of honey entered the U. Of that, the Department of Commerce said The FDA says it has regulations prohibiting foods banned in other countries from entering the U.
About 35 percent is consumed in homes, restaurants and institutions. The remaining 65 percent is bought by industry for use in cereals, baked goods, sauces, beverages and hundreds of different processed foods.
The remaining 52 percent comes from 41 other countries. Import Genius, a private shipping intelligence service, searched its databases of all U.
Customs import data for Food Safety News and provided a telling breakdown: This included 45 million pounds from India alone. Chinese honeymakers began using various illegal methods to conceal the origin of their honey beginning in about About the same time, Chinese beekeepers saw a bacterial epidemic of foulbrood disease race through their hives at wildfire speed, killing tens of millions of bees.
They fought the disease with several Indian-made animal antibiotics, including chloramphenicol. Medical researchers found that children given chloramphenicol as an antibiotic are susceptible to DNA damage and carcinogenicity.
Soon after, the FDA banned its presence in food. There are tens of thousands of tiny operators spread from the Yangtze River and coastal Guangdong and Changbai to deep inland Qinghai province. The lead contamination in some honey has been attributed to these mom-and-pop vendors who use small, unlined, lead-soldered drums to collect and store the honey before it is collected by the brokers for processing.
The amount of chloramphenicol found in honey is miniscule. Nevertheless, public health experts say it can cause a severe, even fatal reaction — aplastic anemia — in about one out of 30, people.
European health authorities found lead in honey bought from India in early A year later, the Indian Export Inspection Council tested samples of honey being exported and reported finding lead and at least two antibiotics in almost 23 percent of the test samples.
The discovery of lead in the honey presents a more serious health threat. Data received by FSN from an international broker in India on Friday showed that within the last month 16 shipments — more thanpounds — of honey went from the Chinese port of Nansha in Guangzhou China to Little Bee Honey in India.
The honey had the same identification numbers of the honey shipped from China. Government investigators in the U. None of the phone messages or emails were returned. Other major Indian honey exporters insist that India gets no honey from China. The massive honey laundering scams that plagued the U.
During that period, Justice Department lawyers and Department of Homeland Security and FDA investigators launched a series of indictments and arrests of 23 German, Chinese, Taiwanese and American corporate officials and their nine international companies. That allowed them to avoid paying stiff anti-dumping charges imposed on China.
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