Beekeeper association stung by retraction after posting accusations about major honey processor

American Honey Producers AssociationThe American Honey Producers Association has apparently retracted an online article that said Honey Holding — a.k.a Honey Solutions, an industrial honey processor — had been charged with tax evasion and illegally selling Chinese honey containing corn syrup and sugar. According to the note:

AHPA has removed the article from its website, and is correcting and retracting the inaccurate statements with this posting.

The allegations were posted in the News section of the AHPA’s website in March, according to Honey Holding. The company said that the information was obtained from a since retracted Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article published two days before.

Here’s more from the note from the AHPA:

On March 9, 2015, AHPA placed on its website a March 7, 2015 online news article published by the Pittsburg Tribune, and written by Rick Wills, with this headline: “Foreign producers import adulterated honey.”  AHPA has determined that this article contains several statements about Honey Solutions, a honey packer in Baytown, Texas, that are not accurate.  AHPA regrets these inaccurate statements. AHPA has removed the article from its website, and is correcting and retracting the inaccurate statements with this posting.

The article states that “[i]n 2013, Honey Solutions of Baytown, Texas, and” another company “agreed to pay millions of dollars in fines and implement corporate compliance measures as a result of a lengthy Justice Department investigation.”  This statement may be viewed as implying that the federal government conducted a single investigation of both Honey Solutions and the other company. In fact, the government conducted separate investigations of each company.

The article also states that Honey Solutions “knowingly sold . . . tainted honey imports from China containing corn syrup or sugar.”  The government, however, did not claim that Honey Solutions purchased or sold any “tainted,” or impure, Chinese honey imports.

The article further states that “Honey Solutions agreed to pay $1 million . . . for tax evasion.”  While Honey Solutions did agree to pay a $1 million fine as part of its settlement with the government regarding its investigation of Honey Solutions, the government did not charge Honey Solutions with tax evasion.

Finally, the article states: “Two executives from the companies were sentenced to jail time.”  While two former executives of the other company received jail sentences in connection with the government’s investigation of that company, no Honey Solutions executive was sentenced to jail time in connection with the government’s investigation of Honey Solution’s sale of honey imports from China.

This is the second major editorial change from the AHPA concerning stories about Honey Holding — in 2014, the association corrected a 2013 article that claimed that Honey Holding had been fined $3 million for illegally smuggling Chinese honey into the country:

The original version of the article entitled “A Class Action Lawsuit Has Been Filed on Behalf of US Beekeepers,” which was first published on the AHPA website on or about April 24, 2013, included the statement that “[t]he U.S. Government brought criminal charges against Groeb Farms, Inc. and Honey Holding for illegal honey smuggling of Chinese honey, etc. for which they agreed to federal fines totaling $3 million.”  That statement was in error.  We regret this error.  Honey Holding was not criminally charged with illegal smuggling of Chinese honey.  An agent of Honey Holding, however, did plead guilty to two counts of violating Title 18 of the United States Code, Sections 2 and 545.

Honey Holding issued a press release about the retraction, which included:

In a memo to its customers, Honey Solutions stated that while it could not ascertain if the repeated pattern of published false statements about it were innocent or malicious in nature, Honey Solutions would continue to zealously protect the integrity of its good name while providing industry leading honey pricing in combination with GFSI excellence (BRC-Grade A), US Customs CTPAT partnership, 3rd party laboratory honey origin affirmation and consistent, timely product delivery.

Doug Murphy, the managing director of Honey Holding, said they became aware of the latest article after customers asked them about the charges:

It came to our attention because we monitor releases by members of our industry, and our customers will ask us about statements that are inconsistent with what they know about our company.

Murphy added that Honey Holding has never bought Chinese honey directly but has obtained it through suppliers.

While we have never imported honey from China, like most honey processors we have bought honey from US based honey traders who imported honey into the U.S. from China and whom represented to the honey processors and the [United States Government] that the honey they imported was compliant with US Customs laws and requirements.

In 2013, Murphy pleaded guilty to federal charges of importing and distributing honey for Honey Holding from Poland that contained chloramphenicol, an unapproved antibiotic or “unsafe food additive,” according to the court documents.

Both Murphy and Honey Holding agreed to cooperate with conditions including jail time, fines and allowing an undercover agent to take a position at the company, according to a Department of Justice press release:

Murphy pleaded guilty today and, under the terms of his cooperation plea agreement, subject to court approval, he will receive a sentence of six months’ imprisonment and a fine of $26,624 when he is sentenced on May 31.

Honey Holding has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement in which it accepted and acknowledged responsibility for its conduct and that of its employees and agents. The agreement requires the company to continue cooperating fully for two years and to pay a $1 million fine based on its ability to pay. The agreement describes Honey Holding’s “extensive cooperation, including its agreement to allow an undercover law enforcement agent to assume the role of [its] director of procurement in an undercover capacity since June 2011.”

James Cuddy Jr, the managing editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, told us they published a correction to the article and it speaks for itself. Cuddy didn’t send a link or tell us where we could find it.

We were unable to locate the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article.

We’ve contacted the American Honey Producers Association. We’ll update if they respond.

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