Sugars-Adulteration and Antibiotics Residues Detected in Honey -
CHOICE # 441 (July 15, 2013)
When you buy natural pure honey, probably the last thing you
expect is syrup. This is the shocking revelation of a recent
Consumer Council test on 55 samples of honey.
The results indicated that as many as 14 samples, or up to
one-quarter of all samples, were adulterated with sugars.
The CODEX Standard for Honey stipulates that honey shall not have
added to it any food ingredient, including food additives, nor
shall any other additions be made other than honey. It should be
natural and pure.
Out of the 14 sugars-adulterated samples, 12 claimed that they were
natural or pure honey and among them 7 claimed to be 100% natural
or 100% pure.
The levels of adulteration could not be quantified with precision
in the test but 4 of the samples in question were considered to be
adulterated with a comparatively high amount of sugars suspected to
be syrup from sweet corn, sugar cane, rice or other sugars- or
While it is not harmful to health, it should not be there in the
The problem was somehow more prevalent with the more expensive
manuka (the name referring to certain plants) honey samples (priced
from $39.6 to $151.2 per 100g). 8 of the sugars-adulterated samples
were found in the manuka honey category out of a total of 15
samples. The remainders 6 sugars-adulterated honey were among the
40 less costly honey samples (priced from $4.9 to $35.2 per
The Council has referred the findings on sugars-adulteration to the
Customs and Excise Department for consideration whether the Trade
Descriptions Ordinance has been breached.
In 2006, the Consumer Council also performed a similar test
focusing on safety - antibiotics residues in honey. The test
revealed the presence of chloramphenicol, which is prohibited under
the law of Hong Kong. Chloramphenicol is associated with a rare but
potentially life threatening bone marrow side effect called
Fortunately, no such antibiotics residue was found in any of the
samples in this test.
Nonetheless, small quantities of antibiotics residues including
streptomycins, sulfonamides, tetracyclines and quinolones, were
found in 6 of the samples. For example, exposure to
sulfamethoxazole (a kind of sulfonamides) upon normal consumption
of the sample found with the highest level of sulfamethoxazole was
well within the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) set by the Australian
Department of Health and Ageing - unless over 11.5 jars (4?kg) of
the sample concerned is to be consumed by an adult weighing 60 kg
daily, the ADI would then be exceeded.
Medical professionals and pharmacists have cautioned that prolonged
consumption of low level of antibiotics in food may lead to the
development of anti-microbial resistance. Infections caused by
resistant micro-organisms often fail to respond to conventional
antibiotic treatment, resulting in prolonged illness, higher
medical costs and even higher risk of death.
At present, in Hong Kong, there is no specific law governing the
level of antibiotics in honey. Normal consumption of honey samples
in the test, according to the Centre for Food Safety, should not
incur adverse health effect.
In view of the potential health hazard, the Consumer Council is
supportive of stricter regulatory oversight over antibiotics
residues contamination in honey.
Traces of the pesticide residue amitraz were also found in another
6 honey samples. But the amount was far below the maximum level
permitted under the EU Directive and does not warrant any health
And for the first time ever, analysis was conducted on the plant
species of pollen in the honey samples to determine the
geographical origin of the honey. Discrepancy between the origin as
analyzed and the origin as labelled (e.g. "Made in", "Product of"
as shown on the product package) or the product description was
found in 7 of the samples.
For instance, a sample labelled as "Made in Switzerland" was
assessed to have its honey originated in China. In another case,
the word Korea in Chinese appeared in the product description but
again the honey was assessed to originate from China.
Manufacturers are urged to provide comprehensive information to
consumers in respect of the country of manufacture and the
geographical origin of the honey as is currently the practice in EU
Claims of antibacterial activity property made by manuka honey also
came under scrutiny of the test.
The test measured the NPA (Non-Peroxide Activity), MGO
(methylglyoxal) and TA (total activity) of the manuka samples and
found variances of antibacterial activity levels in the
According to medical professionals and nutritionists, the
antibacterial and wound healing effects of honey are well
documented in literature. But generally honey for ingestion is not
sterilized to be used for wound care. Medical grade honey should be
applied for that purpose. As far as manuka honey is concerned,
their health benefits as claimed are yet to be studied and
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