Like honey bees that return every spring, the beekeepers are back looking for help from the government.
Congress took away the beekeepers' federal subsidies. But now the Clinton administration has proposed steep tariffs on Chinese honey that could cost consumers far more than the subsidies did."They've lost the taxpayer subsidy, but they've recovered it with a back-door subsidy," said Mike Ingalls, a honey packer and importer in Seattle.
The proposed tariffs, which range up to 157 percent, have effectively shut off imports of the cheap Chinese honey, which supplies 20 percent of U.S. consumption. Prices paid to U.S. beekeepers jumped 10 percent after the Commerce Department announced the duties March 13.
The honey subsidies cost U.S. taxpayers $16 million a year, or about 6 cents per person. A 10 percent increase in the retail price of honey would come to 18 cents a pound.
The tariffs still need final approval from the Commerce Department and the U.S. International Trade Commission, and it is uncertain what the full impact on consumers will be. Chinese honey is used primarily as an ingredient in food products.
But even the beekeepers admit that the tariffs will result in significant price increases for shoppers.
On Capitol Hill, the honey case is being watched closely by farm-state lawmakers, who are looking for new ways to prop up farmer incomes.
"The agriculture programs that are actually working and the farmers that are making a living are in those areas where we are limiting imports and protecting against unfair competition," said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.