Honey on store shelves could be contaminated

by: John Bachman Updated:

ATLANTA,None —

A Channel 2 Investigation found the honey found on store shelves in Georgia could be contaminated.  If it's from China, it may be loaded with heavy metals and antibiotics that could make children sick.

Agents recently seized a shipment of honey from China at the Port of Savannah. Officials couldn't reveal any more information about it, because the investigation is ongoing.

"There currently is a duty rate of 221 percent for Chinese honey imported into the United States," said Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Special-Agent-in-Charge Greg Wiest.



Authorities call it honey laundering.  Honey producers from China find ways around paying huge taxes to import to the U.S. by mislabeling honey, or shipping it through countries like India.  Other producers strip down their product to hide potential dangers in it, like contaminants and antibiotics. 

Chinese honey producers often use an animal antibiotic, not approved in the U.S.  Eating it could pose a major health risk, especially to children.

"When a child needs an antibiotic for an illness, if they've had exposure to an antibiotic in the past, that product that they're given may not work as well," said Dr. Andi Shane of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Division at Emory University.

Leigh Wilde is a metro Atlanta mother of two boys who eat honey regularly.

"I buy it for the nutritional value of it, and for the pollen that's in it," Wilde said.

But a new study by the Food Safety News found that 80 percent of the honey found on store shelves in the U.S. doesn't have pollen in it.    

"When we looked at the large grocery chains, it was 76 percent of them had all the pollen removed.  When you go to the big box stores, it was 100 percent," said Food Safety News writer Andrew Schneider.

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If the pollen is removed from honey, no one can tell where it comes from.  That means it could be from China or the U.S., no one has a way of tracing it.  

"For more than 10 years, the honey industry, many members of Congress, and public health groups have asked the Food and Drug Administration to develop a standard for identifying honey," said Schneider.  "No one can really figure out why the FDA doesn't want to do this."

Officials with the Georgia Department of Agriculture told Channel 2 Action News, the state does not have regulations for honey, but inspectors do conduct random tests on honey and other products.

Georgia beekeeper Bill Owens said it's a matter of re-educating the consumer.  He said there are beekeepers in every county in the state, and to be safe, buy local.

"Nothing beats when you can go to the beekeeper and they can say the honey came from that box, those bees, and the pollen came from the flowers and trees right here in this area," Owens said. Wilde plans to do just that for her family.

"If it's something I'm eating regularly, I definitely want to know what's in it," Wilde said.  "I absolutely will be looking at labels to see if it's made in the U.S.".