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Chinese Honey Still Coming In Illegally. Here’s How We Know
By Alan Harman
A Texas A&M University scientist is continuing to find honey samples labeled as coming from other countries but originating on China.
Vaughn Bryant, a palynologist and an anthropology professor, spends hours at a time peering at slides of pollen samples, comparing them to track down the origins of honey with questionable heritage.
Changing the county of origin from China is designed to avoid tariffs of up to 500% imposed after exporters there were “dumping” it in the U.S. – selling it at a much lower price than its cost, which is about one-half what it costs U.S. honey producers.
The practice has almost ruined the market for domestic honey, says Bryant, who is also director of the palynology laboratory at Texas A&M.
Bryant, who examines more than 100 honey samples a year for importers, exporters, beekeepers and producers, says he believes he is the only person in the U.S. doing melissopalynology – the study of pollen in honey – on a routine basis.
For the last five years, he has analyzed the pollen in honey samples from all over the world to determine the nectar sources and origin of the honey.
He examines imported samples purported to come from Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos, and usually discovers the samples are blends, with a little honey from those countries and a majority of the blend coming from Chinese sources.
“Now there are lots of shenanigans going on to avoid having to pay those tariffs, and the investigators are way behind in following them,” Bryant says.
“The beekeepers of the U.S. have been pleading with the FDA to enact stricter guidelines about accurate labeling for honey, but that is a long, slow process. Meanwhile, I'm trying to help out here and there, but it's almost impossible to keep up.”
Some foreign exporters get around the tariff by mixing honey from different sources, while others infuse up to 50% high fructose corn syrup into the honey, he says.
DNA studies of the pollen in honey is expensive and difficult, Bryant says. Isotopic studies can reveal the source, provided you have a database of isotope signatures, which for now are very limited.
“We've never had ‘truth in labeling’ for selling honey, and we should,” he says. “And the U.S. needs to make it illegal to import honey that has been filtered to remove the pollen, which makes it almost impossible to detect where it came from.”
John Thomas, who was an entomologist with the Texas A&M Extension Service from 1957 to 1992 and is a beekeeper and a major donor to the new Texas Honey Bee Facility at Texas A&M, says he is grateful for Bryant's work.
“We have fought with the Chinese importers because honey is not a primary export there; it is just a byproduct they get from these other products they produce for medicinal purposes,” Thomas says. “This system the A&M anthropologists have devised is a mechanism to trace the origins of the honey through the pollens. Unfortunately, it doesn't solve the problem.”
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Six Weeks As A Beekeeper – Now What?????
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