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That's not sweet: study claims honey brands contaminated

india Updated: Sep 15, 2010 16:30 IST
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Popular honey brands in the country are contaminated with high levels of antibiotics, which are fed to bees and are bad for health, the Centre for Science and Environment claimed on Wednesday.

The Delhi-based NGO said its study found antibiotics, like the banned chloramphenicol and broad spectrum ciprofloxacin and erythromycin, in almost all brands sold in the market. Leading honey producers -- Dabur, Baidyanath, Patanjali Ayurveda, Khadi, Himalaya -- all had two-four antibiotics in their products, much above the stipulated standards. Two foreign brands – from Australia and Switzerland – had high levels of antibiotics, it claimed.

“It is clear that foreign companies are taking advantage of the lack of regulations in India. After all, if our government does not care about the health of its people, why should these companies care?” said Sunita Narain, director, CSE, at the release of the study’s findings here today. “We have standards for antibiotic contamination in the honey we export. Government even tests and certifies that exported honey meets health and safety regulations. But we do not have any standards for domestic honey. This is clearly unacceptable.”

CSE claimed in its press release studies have found that chronic exposure to antibiotics – doses taken in small amounts on a daily basis for a long period -- can lead to a variety of health problems. For instance, exposure to oxytetracycline, one of the antibiotics tested by the CSE lab, can lead to blood-related disorders and liver injury. Antibiotics in honey have the potential to generate large-scale antibiotic resistance, leading to a collapse of healthcare systems and medications.

<b>The CSE study</b>

CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Lab, or PML, tested 12 branded honey samples for six antibiotics, and found antibiotics in 11 samples. The tested samples were bought randomly from various markets in Delhi in July 2009. Of the 12, 10 were Indian brands and two were imported brands.

The six antibiotics that PML looked for were oxytetracycline, chloramphenicol, ampicillin, erythromycin, eurofloxacin and ciprofloxacin. Among the domestic brands tested were Dabur Honey of Dabur India Ltd, which holds over 75 per cent of the market share in the branded segment; Himalaya Forest Honey of Himalaya Drug Company, one of India’s oldest Ayurveda drug companies; Patanjali Pure Honey of Patanjali Ayurved Ltd, Haridwar; and Baidyanath Wild Flower Honey of Shree Baidyanath Ayurved Bhavan Pvt Ltd (Kolkata), which has about 10 per cent share in the branded honey market (see table for complete list).

The two imported brands were Capilano Pure & Natural Honey of Capilano Honey Ltd, the market leader in Australia, exporting honey to over 40 countries; and Nectaflor Natural Blossom Honey of Narimpex AG with its production site in Biel, Switzerland.

Oxytetracycline or OTC was found in 50 per cent of the samples in the range of 27 to 250 microgram per kg (µg/kg). This is almost 3 to 25 times higher than the 10 µg/kg standard fixed by the Indian government’s Export Inspection Council (EIC) for exported honey. The highest level was detected in Khadi Honey of Khadi Gram Udyog Sewa Samiti, Madhyapura, Bihar.

Chloramphenicol, banned by the EU was found in 25 per cent of the samples, with its levels 9 to 15 times higher than the 0.3 µg/kg standard fixed by the EIC. The highest level was detected in Gold Honey of Vardhman Food & Pharmaceuticals.

Ampicillin was found in 67 per cent of the samples at a concentration of 10 to 614 µg/kg. The highest level was detected in Nectaflor Natural Blossom Honey of Switzerland. There is no standard for ampicillin in honey in any country because it is not supposed to be used in beekeeping. It is, therefore, an unauthorised or illegal substance in honey. Similarly, enrofloxacin, ciprofloxacin and erythromycin, which do not have any standards either, are being illegally used.

Dabur Honey had 91.3 µg/kg of OTC, which is nine times the EIC standard. It also had 26.6 µg/kg of ampicillin and 88.7 µg/kg of enrofloxacin. Essentially, the sample was found to be non-compliant with the EIC standards and would be rejected if placed for exports to the EU or the US.

Of the six antibiotics tested, the highest number - five – were detected in the Swiss Nectaflor Natural Blossom Honey sample. It had 112 µg/kg of OTC, 11 times the EIC standard. Chloramphenicol was found at a level of 3.6 µg/kg, which is 12 times over the EIC standard. It also had highest levels of ampicillin and erythromycin. The sample was found to be non-compliant with the EIC as well as EU regulations.

The Capilano Pure & Natural Honey sample was found to contain three antibiotics and was non-compliant with the EIC export standards as well as some standards imposed in Australia itself.