Money laundering is a "clock and dagger" operation indulged by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, mostly in developing countries like India. Recent turmoil in Indian politics about money laundering was started by the declaration of one of the parties that it would get back billions of dollars of "black" money (tax evaded), stashed away in safe tax havens and secret bank accounts in countries like Switzerland though such promises can at best be rhetoric with no intention to do any thing once these wily politicians climb to power. Why such a practice is called money laundering is any body's guess because such wealth can never be used within the country legally. A new laundering scheme is now reported to be in operation in international trade in honey. Probably it does not make any sense prima facie unless one delves deep into mystery.
China, the so called neo economic power admired and envied even by powerful developed countries happens to be the fulcrum around which honey laundering is reported to be taking place. A nation with practically no scruples and a single agenda to expand its hegemonic power around the world, China is a country where unscrupulous fraudsters and adulterators thrive, probably with state patronage. Other wise it is hard to imagine how milk can be tainted with Melamine, a toxic chemical endangering the life of thousands of unsuspecting children. China is known for its cheap products turned out by state owned as well as private operators but its safety monitoring system is not above board as brought out by series of episodes covering many foods. Latest to "bejewel" the crown of the rulers in China is the unraveling of a gigantic fraud on consumers around the world through honey produced in that country using antibiotics and palming them off as products from other countries to evade suspicion and avoid duties in importing countries.
The two main actors in this "game of intrigue" are China and the US. Honey production in the US has been declining over the years and cheap Chinese honey was able to fill the void till 1998 when Chinese honey industry was practically destroyed due serious infection problem. The US stopped import of honey from China because of tainting with antibiotics used by the bee keepers to salvage the local industry. Besides there is an import duty element of $ 1.2 per pound for Chinese honey while the same product from countries like Russia does not attract any duty. Recent arrest of 11 persons from China and Germany opened up a can of worms and only now the full ramifications of this "Chines game of Roulette" are exposed. German companies buy cheap honey from China, marginally process them by removing pollens and filtration to obliterate the Chinese identity and to further confuse the importing countries Chinese honey is blended with Indian honey with a dose of the antibiotics Chloramphenicol to prevent spoilage. According to the US authorities the country lost about $80 million on account of duties on over 106 illegal shipments valued at $40 million during the last several years.
Chinese and their collaborators in this devious game used counties like Australia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam for transshipment of Chinese honey and enter Europe, the US and Canada without raising any doubt about its origin. In a country like India, honey imported from any country is not subjected to inspection as long as it is declared as exportable. While presence of an antibiotic like Chloramphenicol in small concentrations might not pose any immediate problem, the real cause of worry is the camouflage used by China in exporting its products to countries where they are banned through the intricate web they have spun to avoid detection and if it is honey to day it can be some thing else tomorrow in order to accumulate huge foreign currency reserve it is building up to lord over other lesser economic powers.
India has joined the "elite" honey countries where antibiotics have been detected in honey. If the reports of a local consumer activist organization are to be believed, almost all major branded honey products in the market contained Chloramphenicol at levels varying from 3.7 ug to 250 ug per kg and even imported samples from Australia and Switzerland had this antibiotic at much higher levels. In fact the Indian honey brands do "better" than their Chinese counterparts in that not one but four different antibiotics were found to be present in Indian honey!. Since the manufacturers of these honey brands are not forthcoming on the issue it is difficult to come to any conclusion regarding the origin of these tainted products. Is it possible that Indian apiaries have learned the "technique" of lacing honey with antibiotics from their Chines counter parts as China has plenty of admirers in this country applauding what ever they do. If there is a country standard for honey with clear and unambiguous parameters it must be considered sacred and no one has the authority to violate them what ever be the justification.
The last aspect of this sordid saga is whether such tainted honey is injurious to human health. Of course since a daily dose of about 500 mg is prescribed routinely to treat human infections, one teaspoon of tainted honey, containing less than 5 ug which is one thousandth of the prescription strength, may not do much harm. What is not known is about the consequences one may experience if such honey is consumed every day, especially on the gut health and dynamics of intestinal bacteria. This aspect needs to be investigated before considering any policy of giving green signal for marketing antibiotic treated honey for human consumption.