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“Honeygate” Sting Leads to Charges for Illegal Chinese Honey Importation

Five people and two U.S. honey processors were charged with federal crimes last week as a result of an investigation into illegal importation of honey from China, known as “Honeygate,” led by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations.

The government is alleging that Chinese honey — which can be laced with illegal and unsafe antibiotics — was misdeclared when it was imported to the United States and routed through other countries to evade more than $180 million in anti-dumping duties. HSI and Customs and Border Protection said late last week they have stepped up efforts to combat commercial fraud that directly impacts the economy and public health.

The charges come more than a year after an investigation by Food Safety News found that laboratory tests could not detect the origin of more than three quarters of honey purchased at retail locations because ultra-filtration methods remove naturally occurring pollen and make honey impossible to trace. Many in the industry say this practice contributes to honey laundering.

As one honey producer put it: “It’s no secret to anyone in the business that the only reason all the pollen is filtered out is to hide where it initially came from and the fact is that in almost all cases, that is China.”

According to the government, Honey Holding, which was doing business as Honey Solutions of Baytown, Texas and Groeb Farms Inc. of Onsted, Michigan — two of the country’s largest honey suppliers — have entered into deferred prosecution agreements. Honey Holding has agreed to pay $1 million and Groeb Farms has agreed to pay $2 million in fines. Both companies have also agreed to implement corporate compliance programs as part of their respective agreements.

“These businesses intentionally deprived the U.S. government of millions of dollars in unpaid duties,” said ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale. “Schemes like this result in legitimate importers and the domestic honey-producing industry enduring years of unprofitable operations, with some even being put out of business. We will continue to enforce criminal violations of anti-dumping laws in all industries so American and foreign businesses all play by the same rules.”

In a news release last week, the government said the individual defendants also include three honey brokers, the former director of sales for Honey Holding and the president of Premium Food Sales Inc., a broker and distributor of raw and processed honey in Bradford, Ontario.

As reported in 2011, Ernie Groeb, the president and CEO of Groeb Farms Inc., which calls itself “the world’s largest packer of honey,” told Food Safety News that doesn’t have a specific requirement regarding pollen content for the 85 million pounds of honey Groeb Farms purchases.

“We buy basically what’s considered raw honey. We trust good suppliers. That’s what we rely on,” said Groeb.

The government started investigating allegations of circumventing anti-dumping duties in the honey trade in 2008. The investigation resulted in charges against 14 individuals, including executives of a German food conglomerate. Several people were charged with evading approximately $80 million in anti-dumping duties on Chinese honey and officials seized more than 3,000 drums of honey that illegally entered the U.S.

The second phase of the investigation, announced last week, focuses on honey that was bought and processed by U.S. companies for domestic sale.

“Some of that honey was adulterated with antibiotics not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in honey,” said DHS. “None of the charges allege any instances of illness or other public health consequences attributed to consumption of the honey. The investigation is continuing.”

DHS did not return requests for more information about antibiotic residues in the illegally imported honey.

“Trade fraud can have significant implications for the U.S. economy and consumers,” said Customs and Border Patrol Chief Operating Officer Thomas S. Winkowski, in a statement. “These products take jobs away from American workers and frequently violate U.S. health and safety standards, potentially endangering the public. CBP is committed to fighting these fraudulent actors alongside our government partners.”

See Food Safety News‘ investigation on ultra-filtered and illegally imported honey by Andrew Schneider: Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey. 

© Food Safety News
  • johnmunsell

    The article above states “We will continue to enforce criminal violations of anti-dumping laws in all industries so American and foreign businesses ALL PLAY BY THE SAME RULES”. 

    Poppycock!

    Domestic agriculture producers do not enjoy a level playing field with foreign ag producers.  America has environmental, as well as labor laws not imposed on our foreign competitors.  Many countries, not strictly limited to third world countries, frequently do not impose minimum wage laws, social security taxes, unemployment taxes, equal employment opportunity standards, pesticide & herbicide controls, ad nauseum. 

    America has changed.  Historically, we made decisions based on energizing domestic industries, which create domestic jobs, while staying globally competitive.  Now, the focus is on maximizing global trade, at the cheapest possible price, while ignoring domestic employment and business viability.  While local economies are languishing, our multinational companies thrive, with precious little consideration of American goals. 

    Neither our government, nor the largest multinational companies have any desire to ensure that domestic industries are playing by the same rules as foreign competitors.

    John Munsell
    Miles City, MT

    • Mike_Mychajlonka_PhD

      As you say, John,  America has changed.  We currently rank 95th on the scale of income equality, behind Nigeria, Iran, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast.  In 2008 we had ourselves a fiscal meltdown spearheaded by financial “innovations.”  The companies creating these synthetic securities knew they were AAA-rated garbage but sold them anyway and then, to rub salt in the wound, those same companies shorted their own lousy products right after they found some sucker to buy them because they were betting on a sure thing – they knew those securities would fail.  Here it is over four years later and such disgusting behavior is still not illegal.  It is well to remember that Baytown, Texas and Onsted, Michigan are both located well within the territory of these United States.  A level playing field is a great idea, but the place we should first expect to see it is here at home.  Instead, we have for decades now, paid (and continue to pay) a truly astounding price for the dual fictions of deregulation and trickle-down economics.  In the 1950′s, our television Superman’s supersuit  bagged at the knees and elbows, but he was said to stand for ” . . . truth, justice and the American Way.”  We need to be proud, once again, of how this country is run – the “American Way.”

  • Pure Honey

    Enough already! New York State needs a technical definition for honey– a definition with POLLEN in it; not define honey as the end result of factory processing of imported product.
    See:
     https://www.facebook.com/PureHoneyinNY
    http://www.rochesterhoney.com/

  • Zippy

    We hope Food Safety News will take the time to do a full
    investigative report on the Groeb Farms situation. This situation appears to be
    complex and when related to a food processing company the public needs to know all the facts: 

    - Groeb Farms has been indicted twice by the Federal Government for problems associated
    to processing honey. The most recent charge resulting in a fine of two million
    dollars.

    2. 
       – Groeb
    Farms Honey Adulteration Conspiracy http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/Pre_96/January95/47.txt.html

    3. 
      – Groeb
    Farms Chinese Origin Honey Transshipped http://www.justice.gov/usao/iln/pr/chicago/2013/pr0220_02a.pdf

    4. 
       – Groeb
    Farms Anti Dumping Charges http://www.michiganbees.org/2013/more-details-on-antidumping-charges/

    5. 
      – - Honey
    Isn’t Honey http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/tests-show-most-store-honey-isnt-honey/

    6. 
       – Honey
    Laundering http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/08/honey-laundering/

     

    As honey is a significant dietary component it would seem
    the following questions and others should be asked and answered:

    1.
    Who is Executive A and B in the Groeb Farms federal indictment?

    2.  What has Groeb
    Farms done to safe guard our food sources in the future?

    3.  Why has there not been a recall of the honey imported from China
    which was packaged and shipped by Groeb Farms?

    4.  Consumers need to know the Chinese honey is contaminated with
    lead, chloramphenicol and other illegal animal antibiotics. 

    It appears the only information about Groeb
    Farms that is being picked up by the press is the press release published by
    the DOJ. We hope you can do more to alert consumers about the facts of this situation as well as the safety
    problems with honey.

  • ChurnYourOwn

    Thanks for reporting on this. I wasn’t aware of Honeygate. This is highly disturbing.

  • ibeamerican

    Wish the government would have been more health oriented in their zest to correct this issue instead of the dollars, but with a seventeen TRILLION deficit what do you expect?