Schumer: 'Honey laundering' a sticky problem that needs FDA intervention

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) this week wrote to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to request that the FDA create "pure honey" standards that would give federal agents more power to crack down on adulteration, misbranding and fraudulent mislabeling of honey.

The letter came two days before the FDA announced that it seized at a Philadelphia distribution center 64 drums, worth $32,000, of imported Chinese honey that was contaminated with the potent antibiotic chloramphenicol.

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"This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to honey laundering," Schumer said in a statement Friday. "We urge the FDA to do a large-scale sweep of similar shipments from China because we are sure they will find many more illegal batches of smuggled honey."

Schumer also said he's working with the U.S. honey industry on a bill that would crack down on 'honey laundering' through other countries by making it harder to set up shell corporations and providing more resources for the FDA.

New York is the nation's 12th largest producer of honey, with $5.3 million is sales last year, but there are concerns that tainted honey from China could hurt demand. Chinese beekeepers sometimes use chloramphenicol to fight off certain bee diseases, but the antibiotic is not approved for use in food, animal feed or food-producing animals in the United States.

Schumer said a federal standard for pure honey would be more efficient than the patchwork of state standards in place today.