Tainted Chinese honey renews calls for country-of-origin labeling

January 26, 2009 12:01am

•  California producers say consumers need to know

•  ‘China. That’s the big perpetrator of all of the imported stuff that’s contaminated’

California honey producers are petitioning the government to include honey in so-called “country-of-origin” label requirements so consumers know where the jars of sweet stuff came from.

“China. That’s the big perpetrator of all of the imported stuff that’s contaminated,” says says Shannon Wooten, a Palo Cedro honey producer. “If we could keep the packers from buying it … that’s the way we stop it.”

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, in an investigation that lasted for five months, tracked illegal imports of honey into the United States and found the international honey trade controlled by criminals and others eager to grab business from American honey producers who have been hit by the mysterious disappearances of millions of honey bees.

The P-I says its investigation found that large shipments of tainted honey from China were repackaged as a product of Russia and were imported at West Coast ports.

But Mr. Wooten says a country-of-origin labeling requirement for imported honey is a long shot at best.

“We tried this before and failed. I think if we could somehow get country-of-origin label specific to a country, and then something would happen to that honey, then the consumers would dictate whether we imported it or not,” says Mr. Wooten. “But to get to that point is going to be difficult.”

Requirements that labels on food products tell consumers the country where they were produced have been postponed by the Obama administration.

China is the largest honey producing nation in the world, with about 40 per cent of the market. The United States is next, followed by Argentina and Ukraine.

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