Honey, honey money
By Eric Kulisch
You may be familiar with the term money laundering as a practice used by criminals to run their illegal proceeds through normal economic transactions — over or undervaluing invoices, breaking bank deposits into smaller amounts, using shell companies that appear to engage in legitimate business, buying and flipping real estate — to keep authorities from tracking down their stash of cash.
But I doubt you've heard about 'honey laundering.' That's right. Honey. As in the stuff bees make.
I learned about that one while sitting through a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in mid-May.
Honey fraud is no laughing matter in Minnesota, which ranks sixth in the nation in honey production. Producers are losing sales to Chinese exporters that are mislabeling honey as sweetener or transshipping it through other countries to avoid duties, according to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
'When there's a huge boost in honey from a country that doesn't even make it, you know that that's a problem,' she said.
Chinese honey is subject to higher duties than honey from some other nations.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin acknowledged that mislabeling of honey from source countries is occurring. CBP, in partnership with other agencies, has had better success unearthing acts of honey fraud that have led to prosecutions than in the area of textiles, he said. The agency is well aware of the problem and is on the lookout for fraudulent shipments, he added.
John Morton, head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the concern goes beyond unfair competition to the impact on public safety from adulterated honey.
He said the Department of Homeland Security has an aggressive effort underway to investigate honey laundering.
'That's good because I'm going to see all the honey people at the Minnesota State Fair in August,' Klobachar responded.
Meanwhile, the FDA is working to develop a national standard for honey identity.
Mixed minds on media control
Dealing with media relations departments in the corporate world can be frustrating at times, because the layers of oversight seem excessive when you just want to ask some simple questions of officials.
I recently reached out to the North American communications department of a major ocean carrier for a story I was doing about piracy off the coast of Somalia. I wanted to confirm a few details I read in a newspaper about the company hiring an individual to help deal with the growing problem for its vessels.
I got this response from a company spokesman: 'Regarding your interview request, protocols and procedures are very sensitive issues as we do not want to disclose information that could compromise security and jeopardize our crews.'
Understandable, except it appeared company executives had already spoken to the newspaper on the record about this subject.
And then the official about whose role I had been inquiring responded with detailed information to an e-mail I sent to the company's communications department at its headquarters in another country.
So, here you have an example of a PR department being overly protective and the official who actually deals with the sensitive information being willing to communicate with the press. ' Eric Kulisch