WASHINGTON – First it was poisoned pet food.

Then came the warnings that imported seafood was unfit for human consumption.

Then it was recalls of toys, fireworks, electrical products and much more.

Now China is under fire for shipping to the U.S. honey tainted with a potentially life-threatening antibiotic as well as adulterating exports with sugar.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., is blowing the whistle on the latest China import scandal. He is calling on the Food and Drug Administration to implement bans on tainted honey, most of which comes from China.

“Almost 70 percent of the honey consumed in our country is imported – most of it from China,” says Conrad. “Unfortunately, China has a long track record of importing adulterated honey and engaging in other fraudulent conduct in the honey trade. These actions not only hurt honey producers in North Dakota and across the country, they also present needless health risks to our consumers.”

In a bipartisan letter signed by 15 senators, Conrad urged the FDA to act on a petition for a standard of identity for honey. Such a regulation would provide a uniform, legal definition of honey purity levels that would aid regulators. Imported honey is an ingredient found in a wide array of products including cereals, snacks, meats and beverages and is also a common ingredient in many health and beauty products.

In 2002 and 2003, the FDA and U.S. Customs seized multiple shipments of Chinese honey at U.S. ports which were contaminated with chloramphenicol, an antibiotic that is banned in food products in the U.S. because of its potentially life threatening effects.

More recently, there are reports that imported honey is being blended with sugars or being labeled as a blend to avoid U.S. duties. This honey is subsequently sold to U.S. processors as pure honey. A long-time supporter of North Dakota’s honey producers, Conrad recently called on the secretary of agriculture to address the growing problem of Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious condition destroying colonies of honeybees across the country.

North Dakota ranks No. 1 among honey producing states in the nation.

Conrad’s letter cited recent scandals over China imports as a reason for renewed concern about honey.

“Recent alarming reports of adulterated food ingredients imported from China raise very serious concerns about the threats posed to U.S. consumers by impure and unfit food imports, and about the steps being taken by the U.S. government to detect and stop such imports,” he wrote. “In this regard, we have particular concerns about imports of honey into the United States.”

He pointed out that the antibiotic chloramphenicol is a food contaminant that can cause idiosyncratic aplastic anemia.

“As shown on the FDA’s on-line listing of import refusals, the growing number of import refusals for impure, adulterated or otherwise unfit products from China far exceeds refusals for other countries,” wrote Conrad. “We fear that these reported incidents may only be a portion of a much larger problem. We are particularly concerned about common practices that may enable those who adulterate or mislabel imported honey to readily escape detection. For example, the continually changing list of enterprises selling honey from China, and the extensive history of fraud and illegal transshipment in honey imports from China may make it especially difficult to determine the actual producers of impure imported honey.”

Conrad’s action comes in the wake of similar concerns expressed by Sen. Dick Durban, D-Ill., and Sen. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.. Those followed WND’s series of explosive investigative reports into threats to life and limb from Chinese products, reports that got enough attention from U.S. lawmakers to begin the process of developing standards and increasing inspections.

“I think we have reached a point, unfortunately, where ‘made in China’ is now a warning label in the United States,” said Durbin.

Durbin specifically referenced statistics gathered in WND’s investigation of product recalls from China. WND found most of the Consumer Product Safety recalls involved imports from China. Imports from China were recalled by the CPSC twice as often as products made everywhere else in the world, including the U.S., the study of government reports showed.

Concerns with China imports began with the pet food scandal that killed or maimed up to 39,000 American cats and dogs. WND’s investigation followed into imports of foods meant for human consumption. The New York Times and other major U.S. media followed.

As WND reported, China, the leading exporter of seafood to the U.S., is raising most of its fish products in water contaminated with raw sewage and compensating by using dangerous drugs and chemicals, many of which are banned by the FDA.

The stunning news followed WND’s report that FDA inspectors report tainted food imports from China are being rejected with increasing frequency because they are filthy, are contaminated with pesticides and tainted with carcinogens, bacteria and banned drugs.

China consistently has topped the list of countries whose products were refused by the FDA – and that list includes many countries, including Mexico and Canada, who export far more food products to the U.S. than China.

While less than half of Asia has access to sewage treatment plants, aquaculture – the raising of seafood products – has become big business on the continent, especially in China.

In China, No. 1 in aquaculture in the world, 3.7 billion tons of sewage is discharged into rivers, lakes and coastal water – some of which are used by the industry. Only 45 percent of China has any sewage-treatment facilities, putting the country behind the rest of Asia.

Durbin and Sen. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., held joint talks with FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach and Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong over the contaminated shipments from China. The senators claimed a victory in the form of a proposed agreement between the FDA and Chinese government and a commitment for increased food inspections from the FDA.

“This proposed agreement between the FDA and the Chinese government is a significant breakthrough in terms of food safety – and American consumers stand to be the big winners,” said Durbin.

In addition, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson raised the issue last month with Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi. When she returned to China, Beijing promised to overhaul its food safety rules. Also, China sentenced to death Liu Pingjun, the former head of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

China exports about $2 billion of food products to the U.S. every year and the total is rapidly growing. According to all U.S. food authorities, China is by far the biggest violator of food safety standards.

China is the second largest source of imports for the U.S. while the U.S. is China’s largest overseas market and second largest source of foreign direct investment.

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