No doubt you’ve heard of money laundering. But have you heard about honey laundering? The term may sound fictional; a silly play on words, but honey laundering is in fact a very real practice of food fraud with potentially dangerous health consequences.


In recent years, honey prices have risen steadily because of a decline in bee populations and their natural honey output. In order to continue producing large quantities of honey to sell at prices that will meet consumer demand in grocery stores, some large-scale manufacturers have been found cutting pure honey with sugar or corn syrup in order to stretch the product and lower the cost. This practice of tainting honey is highly deceptive and illegal, a blatant example of food labeling fraud perpetrated at the expanse of consumers.


But another form of honey laundering recently came to light and the unfolding scandal has all the elements of a thriller novel, full of a cast of international players and complicated subterfuge. Read on.


At one time, China used to ship a lot of low cost honey to the United States, flooding the market with a cheap product. Because of the prices, domestic honey producers could not compete and additional tariffs were placed on China, forcing the price of their honey up. Not content to pay these duties to the US, China instead shipped its honey to other untaxed countries, such as Australia and Thailand, where the honey would undergo a label change in order to enter the US with a different country of origin.


If the import fraud was not bad enough, it turns out that much of the Chinese honey was also tainted – but this time with potentially toxic heavy metals and antibiotics rather than the more innocuous sugar.


As the true origins of the honey came to light in the wake of several food inspections and a large scale Justice Department investigation, two large US companies have been charged and several people indicted and fined for the import scheme that led to consumers being sold an unregulated and antibiotic-tainted product. Honey industry leaders are now working to make sure a future US honey supply is safe from fraud and from all kinds of tainting, using a variety of carbon tests and molecular analysis.


This kind of high resolution testing comes at additional cost, however, so consumers can expect that honey prices will continue to rise. If you can’t live without a little honey drizzled onto your toast or spooned into a cup of tea, perhaps it is time to look around the area where you live to find a reliable local, small-scale honey producer. Your body might just thank you.