Groeb Farms, Inc., the nation's largest honey distributor, has reached a plea agreement with the Department of Justice for $2 million for selling mislabeled Chinese honey to food companies throughout the United States.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Groeb Farms, along with a smaller honey packer and five company employees. The DOJ announced in a statement:
Five individuals and two domestic honey processing companies have been charged with federal crimes in connection with a nationwide investigation of illegal importations of honey from China that was mislabeled as coming from other countries to avoid antidumping duties or was adulterated with antibiotics not approved for use in honey. Altogether, the seven defendants allegedly avoided antidumping duties totaling more than $180 million.
The DOJ charged that Groeb Farms purchased the illegal honey between 2008 and 2012, "knowing that it was illegally imported into the United States to avoid more than $78.8 million in antidumping duties."
The DOJ charged:
The two former executives engaged in fraudulent practices despite the company’s own audits and inspections that raised substantial concerns that the honey was illegally imported. They also provided false information to the company’s board of directors, customers, and the public regarding Groeb Farms’ involvement in knowingly purchasing, processing, and selling illegally smuggled Chinese-origin honey.
In a press release, Groeb Farms said:
Senior executives who were responsible for Groeb Farms’ purchasing and mislead (sic) the Board of Directors, customers and the public about transshipping are no longer with the company. As part of this agreement, Groeb Farms has agreed to pay a $2 million fine and the case will be dismissed after 2 years, following continued compliance.
What's wrong with Chinese honey?
There are serious concerns about Chinese honey for many reasons. These include:
- Chinese honey has been found to have heavy metal contamination.
- It is sometimes illegally diluted with corn syrup and other cheaper sweeteners.
- It has repeatedly been found to be contaminated with chloramphenicol and other illegal animal antibiotics, which are dangerous and even deadly to a very small percentage of the population.
- Chinese honey is subject to anti-dumping tariffs to prevent flooding the marketplace with subsidized honey at artificially low prices that was previously forcing U.S. beekeepers out of business.
Investigators can use the pollen in honey to trace its country of origin. In the United States, most large honey companies have begun to sell ultra-filtered honey, which removes all traces of the pollen. Since this process is expensive and makes poorer quality honey, the only reason to sell ultra-filtered honey is to hide the fact that it is illegally procured, Chinese honey.
Real raw honey has many healthful properties, from the treatment of allergies to wound healing to soothing sore throats. However, most grocery store honey is no longer considered a safe source of true raw honey. Food Safety News found that the vast majority of honey from "big box" grocery stores and drug stores was ultra-filtered and had no trace of pollen.
The bottom line for consumers: You get what you pay for. If you're buying "honey" for $2 a bottle from Walmart, there's no telling what's in that little plastic bear.
For more information on finding ethically sourced, real honey, see True Source Honey.
To find local honey in your area, see Local Harvest.