“Australian honey is safe natural product” says Honey Bee Industry Council

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 25th January 2016

HoneyThe Australian Honey Bee Industry Council has reassured consumers that Australian honey is safe despite the publication of a study that suggested otherwise.


In the study out of Ireland and conducted by Luckhart et al and published in Volume 33, Issue 1 of the academic journal Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, stated it found 41 out of 59 Australian honeys sampled contained by pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA), a liver damaging toxin. PA can occur naturally in honey but it is considered to have serious health consequences for both animals and humans when consumed in high quantities.


The average daily exposure, based on the results of this study, were 0.051 micrograms per kilograms of bodyweight per day for adults and 0.204 for children, which is below the Australian recommendation of 1 microgram. The authors suggest a cause for concern since they are above proposed European Food Safety Authority maximum daily PA intake limit of 0.007 micrograms per kilograms of bodyweight per day.


Australian Honey Bee Industry Council response


The Australian Honey Bee Industry Council has responded to the study saying it is misleading.


The Council said research from some time ago had identified honey from the Paterson’s Curse weed found in Australia to contain natural PA. The council however said that modern farming techniques have dramatically reduced the amount of honey produced from the weed over the last decade.


Referring to the study published last week the council stated:


“A recent study out of Ireland has driven an alarmist headline which ignores key facts,” the council said.


“The study is misleading in that it overstates consumption of honey and underestimates body weight creating a misleading conclusion completely out of touch with reality,” the council stated.


“The Irish research uses a figure for the average adult of 60kgs when considering toxicity. The Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows the average Australian male weighs 85.9kgs and the average female 71.1kg. Thus the research exaggerates the toxicity likelihood,” said the council.


The council further pointed out:


“No new studies have been done surrounding the health risks of PAs in the global food system. It should be noted, that there is not one single case documented of human health being unfavourably affected as a consequence of the consumption of honey containing very low levels of alkaloids. It should also be noted that the alkaloid found in Paterson’s Curse is mainly echimidine, which has been shown to have significantly less toxicity than the other plant alkaloids found in European plants,” the council stated.


“Despite this, there remains no scientific evidence illustrating that consuming such honey leads to unfavourable clinical human health concerns. Australia has a rigorous risk averse food safety system and consumers of Australian honey have nothing to fear and they should continue to enjoy our great Australian honeys,” the council said.


FSANZ response


In response to the study Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) have updated its publicly available information on natural contaminants in honey stating that Australian and New Zealand Honey is “unlikely to pose a health risk.”


“FSANZ is aware of the recent reports on total PA levels in Australian and New Zealand honey. However, based on the type of PA present and honey consumption levels in Australia and New Zealand, they are unlikely to pose a health risk,” FSANZ stated.


“FSANZ has not reviewed the paper by Luckhart et al on the effects of PAs on cells in culture. However, it should be noted that caution is required in extrapolating from cells in culture to a risk in humans,” FSANZ said.


FSANZ further stated that it has been working with honey producers in Australia and New Zealand to characterise the toxicities of PA’s in honey and from this had found that the predominant PA in local honey had lower toxicity that the PA used as a standard by some authorities.


“FSANZ is taking account of recent research conducted in Australia and New Zealand on the presence and toxicity of these substances in honey and is waiting on the outcomes of the international risk assessment of PAs by JECFA (the WHO expert group with responsibility for assessing food contaminants),” FSANZ said.


“It is anticipated that the WHO will complete a risk assessment this year and then the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Food will consider if there should be an internationally agreed maximum level for PAs in honey or other foods,” FSANZ concluded.