Antibiotics and honey don't mix.
Antibiotics and honey don't mix. iStockphoto.com
Just two days after Sen. Charles Schumer urged the FDA to issue an official definition for honey because he claimed Chinese exporters are skirting food standards, the agency announced the seizure of 64 drums of contaminated Chinese honey.
Hmmmm. "The FDA took this action because of the potential serious public health effects of this product," said Michael Chappell, the FDA’s acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, in a press release. The honey contained chloramphenicol, a potent antibiotic that can cause anemia, and isn't supposed to be in food.
Coincidence or not, Schumer's got a "bee in his bonnet" over honey imports, says the Wall Street Journal.
The bulk honey that federal marshals seized was imported by Sweet Works Inc., of Monterey Bay, Calif. The company got it from — you guessed it — a Chinese company. It was then sold to Alfred L. Wolff, Inc., a raw material supplier, which stored it in a Philadelphia warehouse where federal marshals found it. The antibiotic chloramphenicol isn't allowed
The estimated haul? $32,000 worth of the sweet stuff. FDA is still checking it out.
The agency declined to provide any details about the seizure, or even whether such actions are common. The companies involved didn't immediately respond to inquiries.
But the buzz over how governements should handle honey imports is a long and storied one.
Schumer says that if the FDA set a honey standard, it would be easier for the government to take action against imports that don't meet them. And, he says, Chinese importers are getting around dumping duties by shipping honey through other countries or labeling their products differently.
In fact, a Taiwanese executive was arrested on such charges in March.
"I am calling on the federal government to issue a stinging rebuke to these practices, and once again level the playing field," he says in a June 9 letter to FDA.
But trade groups representing importers may see it more as a move to protect New York's prominent spot in the domestic market than anything else.
This isn't the first time food safety and trade have collided.
In fact, it's not even the first time this week. The catfish are jumping in Arkansas over whether Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) can push the USDA forward on an inspection rule some trade groups say is disguised as a way to keep catfish imports out.
UPDATE: Shortly after we published our post, Sen. Schumer's office issued a press release, calling this tainted honey case "only the tip of the iceberg."
And, he's threatening legislation to give U.S. Customs more authority to crack down on "honey laundering."