September 3, 2002
U.S. CUSTOMS SERVICE AND FOOD & DRUG
ADMINISTRATION UNCOVER DUMPING SCHEME INVOLVING CONTAMINATED HONEY IMPORTS
- The U.S. Customs Service (Customs) and the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) announced that they have discovered bulk imports of Chinese honey that
were contaminated with low levels of chloramphenicol (CAP), a potentially
harmful antibiotic and unapproved food additive. The contaminated honey was
detected during an investigation into a widespread scheme to evade payment
of U.S. 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 U.S. ports. In an effort to evade U.S.
anti-dumping duties, this honey had allegedly been illegally transshipped
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, in most cases, only to treat
life-threatening infections in humans when other alternatives are not
available. 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. Nevertheless, the probability of this reaction occurring in the
general population from food exposure is thought to be very low.
To protect the public from unnecessary exposure to potentially harmful
substances, food and animal feed products containing chloramphenicol are
illegal in the United States. Currently, Customs is stopping all suspect
bulk honey imports to this country for the FDA to determine whether they
contain chloramphenicol. Any shipments containing chloramphenicol will be
detained. The FDA is unaware at present of contaminated honey being on
retail shelves, but is continuing its investigation into this matter. Thus
far, no illnesses have been reported in association with the imported honey.
As part of the investigation, Customs and FDA agents during the past week
have executed search warrants on businesses and residences in Los Angeles,
Newark, Tampa, and other locations. Australian Customs, Royal Malaysian
Customs, and Royal Thai Customs have also executed warrants in Australia,
Malaysia, and Thailand. Additional enforcement activity is anticipated in
"This investigation should serve notice that U.S. Customs will not tolerate
unfair trading practices, especially those that pose potential health risks
to the American public," said U.S. Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner.
"This case is an excellent example of cooperation between U.S. Customs, the
FDA, as well as authorities in Australia, Thailand, and Malaysia."
"We will continue to work with our federal and international partners to
ensure that products that cross our borders meet our high standards for food
safety," said FDA Deputy Commissioner Dr. Lester M. Crawford. "The FDA will
take whatever action is necessary to protect the public health from these
kinds of activities."
The probe into this scheme began primarily as a dumping investigation.
Dumping of a product occurs when merchandise manufactured outside of the
United States is sold in the United States at a price that is below the cost
of production, or below the price sold in the foreign home market. Foreign
manufacturers and or/importers may dump products on the U.S. market in order
to gain market share because of political or social concerns or to maximize
profits/minimize losses in production.
In Sept. 2000, several U.S. honey producers filed an unfair trade case
alleging dumping of honey imports from China. In May 2001, the U.S. Commerce
Department issued a notice of preliminary determination which required U.S.
Customs to collect anti-dumping duties on imports of natural bees honey from
certain Chinese companies. The duty rates increased between 34 and 184
The U.S. Customs Attaché in Bangkok, Thailand, subsequently received
information that certain honey exports from China were allegedly being
illegally transshipped through Thailand en route to the United States. The
purpose of the alleged transshipment scheme was to circumvent payment of
anti-dumping duties on Chinese honey imports to the United States.
In June 2002, U.S. Customs Attachés in Bangkok and Singapore launched an
investigation and began working with their law enforcement counterparts in
Australia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Officials from the Royal Thai Customs,
Royal Malaysian Customs, and Australian Customs provided substantial
assistance. Several domestic U.S. Customs offices joined the investigation,
including those in Los Angeles, Newark, Tampa, Houston, Detroit, and
Soon, Customs agents found that U.S.-bound Chinese bulk honey was allegedly
being transshipped through Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam,
and other nations to evade U.S. anti-dumping duties. During the
investigation, Customs officers in Los Angeles drew samples of bulk Chinese
honey from several detained containers that had arrived at the local port. A
laboratory analysis found that the honey samples contained chloramphenicol.
Customs notified the FDA, which immediately joined the investigation given
the health issues associated with chloramphenicol. Analysis by FDA
laboratories confirmed the presence of chloramphenicol in the imported
Since the discovery of chloramphenicol in the Chinese honey imports, Customs
has been stopping all suspect bulk imports of honey for the FDA to test for
the presence of chloramphenicol. The FDA has developed a method to confirm
chloramphenicol levels in honey at one part per billion.
The FDA and Customs are continuing to coordinate their enforcement
strategies and will be detaining or seizing any honey imports that contain
chloramphenicol to ensure that they are not released for human or animal
consumption in the United States.