No antibiotics to be allowed in honey

Food safety authority approves scientific panel's recommendations for regulating honey quality

India has inched closer to regulating antibiotics in honey with the apex food safety body of the country approving the recommendations of its own scientific panel and committee on fixing rules for antibiotics in honey. The recommendations put forth by the scientific panel, which says antibiotics should not be used at any stage of honey production, has been unanimously approved by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), according to information available on the authority's website. These recommendations will now have to be notified by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, that has administrative control over the food regulatory body.

FSSAI's scientific panel on pesticides and antibiotic residues began discussions on setting rules for antibiotics in honey on August 2011. This was nearly a year after the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) study, which revealed how top honey brands were contaminated with antibiotic residues; the antibiotics are used by the beekeeping industry to control outbreak of diseases in honeybees and as growth promoters to increase production. The FSSAI scientific panel took note of the CSE study and observed there was enough evidence of antibiotics in honey and that there was a need for a well designed, uniform risk assessment method as well as a study on consumption patterns of honey by the vulnerable age groups—children and the elderly.

Indian norms conform with EU norms

In the course of the meetings, it was decided in-principle that antibiotics should not be allowed at any stage of honey production. So, a warning was sounded, evident from the minutes of the meetings, that if a maximum residue limit for antibiotics in honey was to be set it would give the manufacturers a license to continue using antibiotics. However, the panel recommended the limits of quantification (LoQ)—the lowest measurable quantity for quantification purposes during testing. In October 2011, the FSSAI scientific panel decided to follow the EU norms for antibiotic residues, which says there should be no trace of antibiotics in honey.

For those antibiotics which were not included in the EU norms, such as ciprofloxacin, enrofloxacin and ampicillin, their LoQs were to be identified. The LoQs were identified and the recommendations made in December 2011. The list of antibiotics that has been prepared by the FSSAI includes antibiotics that were tested by CSE in 2010.

It was during the ninth meeting of the FSSAI, held on June 6, that the recommendations were approved. During the meeting, the joint secretary from the agriculture ministry informed that National Bee Board will make farmers aware about safety and best practices in beekeeping. FSSAI chairperson, K Chandramouli, informed that once the standards are prescribed, the same would be communicated to the agriculture ministry.



What’s in your Honey?

Ayurveda prescribes it for a range of ailments. People eat it for rejuvenation and boosting immunity. An Indian homemaker’s kitchen shelf is incomplete without a jar of this amber liquid. But without quality and safety controls, this gift of nature has been contaminated. CSE laboratory tests find high levels of antibiotics in well-known brands of honey sold in the market. Chandra Bhushan reports on the findings. Savvy Soumya Misra trails beekeepers across four states and finds honey is being produced with the help of antibiotics and pesticides; Arnab Pratim Dutta looks at the thriving business of honey laundering

What’s in your Honey?

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