Well, maybe not so directly. These days, a long supply chain often links beehives half a world away with the jar of honey in your kitchen. And there's suspicion in that supply chain: global trade disputes; accusations of unfair competition; even honey identity-switching.
There are special restrictions on honey imports from one country: China. And some Chinese honey exporters have been trying to evade those restrictions.
China is the world's biggest producer of honey, and up until a few years ago, it shipped large quantities of honey to the U.S. Chinese honey was cheap. It was so cheap, in fact, that American beekeepers complained it was driving them out of business.
They complained that China was dumping that honey, selling it for an artificially low price.
In 2001, U.S. officials agreed. For most of the following decade, the U.S. tried different ways to slow down imports of Chinese honey, but nothing worked too well. Finally, in 2008, officials simply imposed huge import duties on all honey from China. This made Chinese honey very expensive, and it almost completely shut down imports of honey from China.
But did it really? Dutch Gold's Jill Clark says statistics of U.S. honey imports tell a curious story. At the moment when imports of Chinese honey dried up, 'all of a sudden we saw these other countries starting to sell a lot of honey into the U.S., and they weren't countries that tended to have any commercial beekeeping.' The big increases came from some of China's neighbors: Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Clark says that Dutch Gold figured it had to be falsely labeled honey that was really coming from China. 'We were offered it many times, and with these very cheap prices we knew exactly what it was. It was nothing that we wanted anything to do with whatsoever,' she says.
There was more evidence than just the price. There was pollen. When bees collect nectar from flowers, they bring back pollen, too, and it ends up in raw honey. Scientists can look at those grains of pollen under a microscope and tell if they came from flowers that grow in China but not in Indonesia.
The honey from Indonesia and Malaysia dried up late last year, as quickly as it appeared.
But Phipps believes that Chinese exporters have found a new trade route. This year, he says, 'we saw a huge surge in Indian honey entering our country.'
Phipps is convinced that this is really Chinese honey, too. But this time the evidence is not as clear. Unlike Malaysia and Indonesia, India does have a history of honey production. Also, laboratories are not finding Chinese pollen in this honey.
Phipps thinks that the lack of pollen is simply evidence that the Chinese have found another way to game the system. He thinks that the Chinese are filtering that honey before they export it, to remove the pollen. Then they're mixing it into raw Indian honey, with pollen that indicates that it's from India."
Funny Honey? Bringing Trust To A Sector Full Of Suspicion
by Dan Charles