Friday, May 04, 2007

Cleaning Up China's Honey

By Don Lee, The Los Angeles Times (USA), 5/3/2007

FUFENG, CHINA — For two years, Sun Baoli has been trying to clean up the dirty honey business here. He's been met with nasty stings from bees, but those are nothing compared with the curses and punches from their keepers.

The 52-year-old entrepreneur paid the local government about $5,000 to rent part of a nature preserve teeming with nectar-filled acacia trees. He's been recruiting beekeepers to harvest on the grounds, and all he asks is that they follow a few simple health rules. First, no using antibiotics in their colonies; the drugs can make people sick. Second, no storing honey in metal containers; those can taint the sweet goo with toxic iron and lead.

Some 45 keepers have signed up. But many others are hostile to his efforts, which they see as a threat to their decades-old way of doing business on the cheap and making easy profits…

Honey and thousands of other Chinese food products are showing up more and more on dining tables around the world…

In 2002, Chinese honey was blocked first by the European Union and then the United States after shipments tested positive for chloramphenicol, an antibiotic banned in foods by many countries because it has been shown to cause a potentially fatal blood condition.

Later that year, China's Ministry of Agriculture outlawed the use of chloramphenicol in food production, and last year the Agricultural Science Assn. of China added it and nine other medicines, including penicillin, to its list of drugs prohibited from use in food.

The efforts by China helped restore shipments of honey to the West, and in 2006 exports of Chinese honey to the U.S. grew by 14% to $27.3 million. It is widely used as an ingredient in breads, cakes, barbecue sauces and jams.

But for many beekeepers, old habits die hard…

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