Bulk imports of Chinese honey contaminated with low levels of chloramphenicol (CAP), a potentially harmful antibiotic and unapproved food additive, have been discovered by US Customs and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week.
In a statement the FDA claimed that the contaminated honey was detected during an investigation into a widespread scheme to evade payment of US anti-dumping duties on bulk imports of Chinese honey.
To date, the investigation has resulted in the detention of more than 50 containers of bulk Chinese honey at US ports. In an effort to evade US anti-dumping duties, this honey had allegedly been illegally transported through third-party countries on its way from China to America.
Some of the bulk honey in these containers has tested positive for chloramphenicol, an antibiotic used to treat infections in humans. Use of chloramphenicol is limited because this antibiotic is associated with a very rare, but potentially life-threatening side effect - idiosyncratic aplastic anemia. For the very small number of people susceptible to this side effect, exposure to chloramphenicol could be serious. A 'safe' limit of chloramphenicol for such people has not been established although the probability of this reaction occurring in the general population from food exposure is thought to be very low.
Food and animal feed products containing chloramphenicol are illegal in the United States.
"This investigation should serve notice that US Customs will not tolerate unfair trading practices, especially those that pose potential health risks to the American public," said US Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner. "This case is an excellent example of cooperation between US Customs, the FDA, as well as authorities in Australia, Thailand, and Malaysia."
In September 2000, several US honey producers filed an unfair trade case alleging dumping of honey imports from China. In May 2001, the US commerce department issued a notice of preliminary determination which required US customs to collect anti-dumping duties on imports of natural bees honey from certain Chinese companies. The duty rates increased between 34 and 184 per cent.