Honey laundering' draws protests from producers
Aug. 30, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.
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By Wendy Lee
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota honey producers say they're in a sticky situation.
An industry group alleged Monday that Chinese businesses are bringing honey into the United States illegally, by lying about the product's origin to bypass expensive import tariffs and fees. It's called "honey laundering," and officials say it's a serious issue for honey producers.
"This is not something that Winnie The Pooh does to get the stickier stuff off of his clothes," U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said at a Minnesota State Fair event the Minnesota Honey Producers Association held to call attention to the issue.
Klobuchar estimated that the "laundering" has been going on for nearly a decade, costing the U.S. treasury up to $200 million a year in revenue. The Chinese businesses, whom officials call the biggest culprits, mislabel their products by repackaging them in other countries, even though they're manufactured in China.
The honey producers say the foreign products are often lower quality and sold at low prices, which is possible in part because of the avoidance of tariffs. That makes it tough for higher-quality honey to compete, producers say.
"This problem is damaging to our already fragile industry," said David Ellingson, past president of The Minnesota Honey Producers Association and owner of an Odessa, Minn.-based honey-producing business.
Ellingson estimates that Minnesota's honey and pollination business is a $4 billion industry. And aside from the economic impact, honey producers point out that they also raise bees, which assist in the pollination of crops and feed.
Minnesota is the nation's sixth-largest honey producer.
Klobuchar sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday, urging the agency to create a national definition for honey, which she believes will lead to better regulation. In some cases, the illegally imported honey has been wrongly described as blended syrup, honey syrup and malt sweetener, she said.
States that include Florida, California and Wisconsin have such definitions in place. Klobuchar said honey industry officials sent a citizen petition to the FDA four years ago.
"If they have a national standard for Parmesan cheese and maple syrup, they can establish one for honey," Klobuchar said.
FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey said the agency "is evaluating the petition in line with our other priorities" and pointed out that the agency has taken action against adulterated honey.
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Officials encouraged consumers to buy Minnesota-made honey, which was conveniently on sale right behind the news conference. American Honey Princess Amy Roden of Wisconsin, sporting a tiara, later handed out samples.
"If it is labeled honey, it should be pure honey," said Roden, who promotes the beekeeping industry.
Marion Welker, an 80-year-old Bloomington, Minn., resident, said she was surprised to hear about honey laundering.
"I am going to buy only from here," Welker said, as she enjoyed her $4 honey nut fudge ice cream.
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