Sunday, October 06, 2013

The Horrors of Honey?

Go to your pantry. Take out your honey jar, and investigate its origins. Unless it says USDA certified organic, there's a good chance that it's illegally imported, mislabeled Chinese honey, which evaded taxes and could contain banned antibiotics.  Earlier this year, National Public Radio exposed the mislabeling from two of the biggest USA honey packers (which was the "largest food fraud case in history"):

"This is a huge deal for the industry. This is the first admission by a U.S. packer, the actual user,” that they were knowingly importing mislabeled honey, Eric Wenger, chairman of True Source Honey, an industry consortium that has set up an auditing and testing system to guarantee the true origin of honey, told NPR." 1

However, evading the $180M in import taxes didn't seem to help out the struggling company as GROEB (USA), one of the big packers, filed for bankruptcy on October 3rd, 2013, and this filing put an end to the class-action lawsuits against the company. Ethics aside, this case is not really "new" news, with reports of tainted and illegally imported honey having been reported back in 2011. Since then, the European Union has been in the vanguard of banning Asian honey, and our FDA which "checks few of the thousands of shipments arriving through 22 American ports each year," 2 cannot possibly regulate it all...and it's not just illegal Chinese honey that's being found, Indian and Vietnamese honey are also part of the problem. (How can we avoid filtered, stripped, tainted-with-antibiotics illegal honey? By buying local organic honey, which must be labeled as follows.)

Of course, what's especially alarming at this moment, 45% of American FDA workers (around 6,500 workers nationwide) have been furloughed currently pending the government shutdown. 68% of the staff at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in surveillance presently have also been furloughed. So honey testing aside, all major "routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs, and the majority of lab research" has stopped. 3 I did some additional research into the effects of the Government Shutdown on the FDA and discovered that the full time FDA meat production facility employees will still be working, but this is still troubling. It is estimated that the FDA inspects 80 facilities nationwide per day, so if the shutdown continues to Oct. 17, another estimated 960 facilities will go without being inspected. What is really interesting, are the horrifying 2013 warning letters to companies that failed inspections which you can read here. There are major companies listed there with violations of illegal drug residue (mainly in cows which were sold living in inadequate living conditions), misbrandings, insanitary conditions, mislabeling, unapproved supplements, modified tobbaco products...the list goes on and there are over 25 pages of summary violations.

So what began as an investigation into illegal honey mislabeling, has led me down the closed hallways of food inspection, reminiscent of the horrors of the meatpacking industry in The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Why aren't we hearing more about this?