WASHINGTON – Call it a case of honey laundering.
U.S. officials said Wednesday they had mounted a sting operation against two major firms illegally importing honey from China and selling it on the American market, avoiding $180 million in antidumping duties.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement described the bust as “one of the largest criminal antidumping cases in history.”
The offense involved Chinese honey either being declared as another commodity or transshipped through other countries such as India and Russia to avoid trade duties. Five people have been arrested and charged and the two firms, Honey Holding of Texas and Groeb Farms of Michigan, have agreed to pay fines of $1 million and $2 million.
Washington was abuzz with news of the bust, and lawmakers could not resist the urge to lay the puns on thick.
“This successful sting operation is sure to be a buzzkill for would-be honey smugglers,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said. “For too long, foreign smuggling of this product has created a sticky situation for domestic honey producers. We need a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to honey laundering.”
ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale was quick to insist there was “no health and safety risk” despite some of the 4,900 barrels of seized honey being adulterated with antibiotics not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The operation was the second phase of a broad investigation that began in 2008 and resulted in earlier charges against 14 people, and U.S. honey producers cheered the news.
“We as an industry have been working hard to get customs to crack down,” said George Hansen, who heads the American Beekeeping Federation. “But every time they close one avenue, the cheaters find another way.”
U.S. honey production has been in steady decline, thanks to rising costs and a condition known as colony collapse disorder, in which bees suddenly disappear from a hive — a growing concern for beekeepers and farmers.