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Smuggled honey putting squeeze on beekeepers
As Government moves to allow the importation of honey into T&T, reports have surfaced that a shipment of honey brought in illegally by a business clique was sent back to Grenada recently by the Customs and Excise Division. The shipment came to the attention of the Beekeepers’ Association of T&T and the Professional Beekeepers Association (PBA), whose members discussed the illegal import with Inspector of Apiaries, Ian Fletcher, at an April 30 meeting in Curepe. On Friday, Fletcher, Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj and Trade Minister Vasant Bharath denied knowledge of the shipment.
However, two beekeepers who attended the meeting, Sean Carrera and president of the PBA, Chunilal Roopnarine, insisted that the shipment was discussed and concerns expressed by stakeholders. Carrera said beekeepers later discovered that a business group had brought in the shipment, which was picked up by Customs and Excise Division officers and sent back to Grenada because it contravened the country’s Beekeeping and Bee Products Act that prohibits honey importation. He said over the past year adulterated honey has been smuggled into the country and sold. While they have no problem with competition, Carrera said, imported honey brings with it pests and diseases that can decimate Trinidad and Tobago’s local bee population, adversely affect crop production, and cause health problems. “Honey must be tested before it enters a country to ensure it is safe, but this is not done due to the illegal operations,” Carrera said.
Bharath: Contraband honey should be taken off the shelves
On Friday, Bharath said once the laboratory is completed, the Government will take legislation to Parliament to change the Act. “Once that is done, then on a phased basis we will allow imported honey to come in,” he said. Maharaj said that the laboratory would be completed by September. Bharath said Grenada has been lobbying for years to gain entry to T&T’s market, whereas local beekeepers have been protective of their apiaries. “I think what has precipitated that matter is the fact that honey in the country is extremely expensive in comparison to the other Caribbean islands. But at the same time, the balance on that is that we have to put the proper safeguards in place to ensure that our local bee population is not affected by imported diseases,” Bharath said.
Roopnarine, however, disagreed with Bharath, stating that Grenada had only a few beekeepers and could barely supply itself with honey, far less export to other countries. Roopnarine suspects the honey is being sourced from China and Brazil and passes through Grenada as a transshipment point. Asked about the contraband honey, Bharath said that the matter rests with the Chemistry, Food and Drug Division, which falls under the Ministry of Health. “They should be doing their work. They should know that honey is not allowed into the country and they should be going to the supermarkets to take them off the shelves,” he said. Though there have been meetings with the division over the matter, Bharath said, the pace at which the division operates “really is almost prehistoric.” Told that some big players were behind the importation of the honey, Bharath said he was not aware of that.
Roopnarine: Businessmen involved
Carrera said Government has moved to construct a laboratory in Couva for the testing of imported honey, while Cabinet has appointed an inter-ministerial committee to amend the bee Act.
“It’s no secret that honey smuggling is being driven by money. It’s a lucrative business, one that can make anyone a millionaire overnight,” PBA president Roopnarine said. “We are hearing big businessmen are involved in the importation of the honey,” Roopnarine said. Roopnarine showed a 16-ounce bottle of impure honey from China that was sold locally for $10. Beekeepers have spotted honey from China, Pakistan, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and Guyana on the local market. “We want to believe that the honey is smuggled through the back door or our ports of entry, similar to the drugs and guns trade,” Roopnarine said. A 750-ml bottle of local honey is sold for between $180 and $225. Roopnarine said he knows one local beekeeper who sold his label, bearing his apiary number, to someone who has been importing honey. “That gives the importer free rein to sell off the foreign honey as locally produced without being caught,” he said.