Honey Laundering May Mask Dangerous Contaminants

For nearly a decade, an international cabal of criminals has been secretly smuggling a sought-after substance across borders, altering shipping records, evading government inspectors, and adulterating supplies with cheap, potentially dangerous additives, all in the name of profit.

Their illegal activities have attracted the attention of the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Commerce Department, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as the governments of Australia, India, Russia, and Singapore.

Just months ago, in September, several key players in this smuggling game were indicted in Chicago on charges of illegally importing more than $40 million worth of ill-gotten, potentially adulterated product into the United States, and selling the inferior stuff at cut-rate prices.

You probably have at least a few ounces of the substance at the center of this global intrigue right now, sitting innocently in your kitchen pantry: honey. 

In 2002, at the request of U.S. honey producers who were struggling to compete with an influx of low-priced imported honey, the U.S Commerce Department placed a hefty tariff of $1.20 per pound on imported honey from China, the world’s largest honey producer. 

That same year, European and Canadian officials discovered and seized more than 80 shipments of Chinese honey that were contaminated with the antibiotic chloramphenicol. Linked to liver damage, bone marrow suppression, anemia and leukemia in humans, chloramphenicol has been banned for use by beekeepers in the United States.

Since then, imported honey from China has also been found on several occasions to be contaminated with pesticides or industrial pollutants, or diluted with corn syrup or cane sugar

As a result of these frequent findings of adulteration and contamination, in addition to higher taxes, imported honey from China is generally subject to extra scrutiny and testing by U.S. customs officials. 

But over the years, since restrictions on Chinese honey imports were put into place, certain savvy international traders in honey have figured out a way to sell barrels and barrels of cheap Chinese honey in the U.S. without having to pay higher taxes and jump through bureaucratic hoops — by making PRODUCT OF CHINA disappear from the honey’s shipping label.  

For nearly a decade, honey traders have been clandenstinely routing Chinese honey through various other countries, including India and Singapore, where co-conspirators relabel the sweetener with a new country of origin. The beekeeping industry calls it “honey laundering.”

Now, as honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder continues to challenge beekeepers across Europe and North America, devastating honeybee populations, the declining supply of locally-produced honey in these regions is causing prices for the popular natural sweetener to rise.

And though some honey launderers have been caught by customs officials, according to recent investigative reports in the U.S. by the Seattle Post Intelligencer and the Canadian Globe and Mail, imported honey of questionable quality and origin, much of it likely laundered honey from China, continues to flood the North American market, undercutting struggling local producers and potentially creating a risk to public health.

So what can the average North American honey lover do to avoid purchasing illegally imported, possibly contaminated honey? Shop locally. Many mainstream grocery stores carry locally-produced honey right alongside the big-name brands, and small-time honey producers are generally proud to feature their location right on the packaging.

If you can’t readily find honey made in your own backyard, make sure the package you buy at least says PRODUCT OF USA or PRODUCT OF CANADA.

You may have to pay a few dollars more per jar for locally-produced honey than you would pay for an imported brand. But consider it a donation that will support local beekeepers, help to preserve bee populations in your area, and fight international crime.

Related Stories: 

Where Have All the Bumble Bees Gone?

Honeybee Crisis Continues: How You Can Help Stop Colony Collapse Disorder

New Law Would Ban Eating Cats and Dogs in China (VIDEO)


Photo of honeycomb by SEVEN, from Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons license.


William C
William Cabout a year ago


W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Tonya Freeman
Tonya Freeman6 years ago

Thank you for this information as I am a honey lover and will make sure to look for where it comes from.

Christina Robertson
Tina Robertson6 years ago

For years now it seems that a huge number of products from China have been scrutinized and had "cautions", "recalls", "warnings" and "removals from our grocery shelves" attached to their products, whether it be fish, vegetables, children's toys or a variety of other goods, so why has the American, Canadian and European governments, not checking these products before they end up on store shelves?
Who would want to eat green onions, garlic, celery, bok choi, noodles ( soup ) or anything else that comes from China........because it is cheap?
Not only are their vegetable products contaminated from dirty, polluted ground water, but most of their farm fish and rice are raised beside contaminated ponds and sewage gutters. they do not have the standard of pesticide use as we have in the US or Canada or any other 1st world nation.
I personally always check the labels, not for "Packaged In " or "Produced In" but for the "Country of Origin", you will be surprise to find out that a lot of the brand names that we think are from our country, just package goods from China here in America or Canada, and make it appear to be from our country or another country such as Thailand, Korea or Vietnam.

Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado6 years ago


Holly C.
Past Member 6 years ago

I just came across this article by a link from another page... I had no idea about this "honey laundering". I will check the cupboard and pass on this information to my friends and family. Thank you!

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle7 years ago

As the article said, buy local honey. One of honey's best effects is that one benefits from the anti-allergy properties of eating local honey. The bees collect pollen from local flowers, and that helps your system in its immunity to the allergiens in your area. Some people automatically eat a spoonful of honey each morning, like taking your one-a-day vitamin.

Carmen Bouwhuis Jansen

Intresting, thanks

Carmen Bouwhuis Jansen

Okay, noted. Thanks