The Centre has set limits for the presence of antibiotics in honey – an issue that had sparked off concerns four years ago about drug resistance, blood-related diseases and potential damage to vital organs in humans.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the national food regulatory body, has laid down more stringent parameters limiting the presence of a range of antibiotic residues found in honey. Experts say the move is likely to ensure the quality of honey sold in and exported from India.
“The use of antibiotics in bee-keeping can transfer its trace amounts, usually called residues, to honey, which in turn can affect public health in case of prolonged consumption. The standards have been established by considering safe and acceptable daily intake (ADI) which describes the amount consumed daily over a lifetime expressed in milligram per kilogram of the weight,” said Milind Umekar, executive member of the Indian Pharmacological Society, an apex body of professional pharmacologists in India.
The changed rules will come into force 60 days from December 3, 2014 (the date of publication in the official gazette). This essentially means that honey manufactured and packaged in India from February will have to conform to the new standards.
The limit on antibiotic residue in honey has been set on the basis of a detection method called ‘limit of quantification’. Extensive use of antibiotics in bee-keeping leads to accumulation of antibiotic residue in honey. “It is essential to limit its presence in the final honey product. Hence the guidelines,” said a senior FSSAI official.
Use of antibiotics has increased in bee-keeping after the Indian bee, which is more adaptable to the environment, has been replaced by the European bee.
In 2010, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), an environmental action group, had found high levels of antibiotics in several commonly available brands of honey in the market. The study found that several leading brands of honey had high levels of two to four antibiotics. Some brands from Australia and Switzerland too had antibiotics in it.
All the samples were collected from markets in Delhi and tested for the presence of six antibiotics – oxytetracycline, chloramphenicol (which is banned in most countries for use in animals), ampicillin, enrofloxacin, ciprofloxacin and erythromycin.
“It is important to mention here that beekeepers use antibiotics at relatively high doses to treat infections or at low doses as ‘growth promoters.’ Apparently, extensive use of antibiotics leads to accumulation of antibiotic residues in honey, thereby leading to decreased quality. Antibiotic residues have a relatively long shelf life and may have direct toxic effects on consumers. Monitoring antibiotics residues in honey, wax, and bees helps assess the potential risk of these products to human health,” said Brijesh Taksande, head, animal and pharmacological experimentation at Smt. Kishoritai Bhoyar College of Pharmacy at Kamptee in Nagpur.
Pharmacologist and researcher Nandkishor Kotagale said, “Maximum residue limits (MRLs) have been established in India for most foods produced by animals treated with antibiotics like sulfonamides and tetracyclines. However, there were no MRLs for bee products. Honey is traded internationally and countries generally accept standards set by the Codex Alimentarius. Nevertheless, European countries, the US, Canada and Australia have their own separate standards. With FSSAI’s regulations we will be in a better position to detect the amount of various antibiotics in the marketed honey and can reject its sale and marketing if it is exceeding the prescribed limits.”
“Honey manufactured and packaged in India from February onwards will have to follow these norms,” said Dilip Sangat, assistant commissioner (food), Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), Pune.