A survey of 12 popular honey brands including two imported products available in the Indian market shows almost all of them contain high levels of antibiotics, used by the beekeeping industry to control and prevent outbreak of diseases in apiaries.
Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment analysed 10 Indian honey brands – Dabur, Himalaya, Patanjali, Khadi, Himflora, Mehsons, Baidyanath, Gold, Hitkari and Umang. Also two foreign products Australian product Capilano and Swiss Nectaflor were checked.
Barring one, all other honey brands were found to be contaminated with multiple antibiotics and regular consumption may contribute to the evolution of drug-resistant superbugs.
But when it comes to the million dollar export market, regulators at the Export Inspection Council (EIC) and Agriculture product Export Development Authority (APEDA) under the Union commerce ministry ensure that honeys for export market adhere to the highest quality norms. But the authorities allow sale of contaminated honey in the domestic market.
“They diligently check the products and monitors the standard for export products. But there is no check on the products available in the domestic market,” said Sunita Narain, director of Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment which carried out the survey.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India failed to do anything in the last four years even though the government was aware of the problem since the last five years, she said.
Moreover, nobody knows what happened to the export-rejected products. Though there was no word on it from the government or the industry, it was likely that those contaminated products might be coming back to domestic market after relabeling, said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director of CSE.
India has three standards on honey, each defining it as a “natural product”. But there were no standards for antibiotic or any other contaminants in honey, he said. Besides diseases control, antibiotics are used as a growth promoter too.
“Barring Hitkari, all other branded products are contaminated by high levels of multiple antibiotics. It is bad for health but there is no regulation for the domestic market,” said Narain.
Chronic exposure to antibiotics in small doses can lead to antibiotic-resistance and superbugs, which is increasingly becoming a public health worry. As many as six antibiotics were found and contamination level was maximum with oxytetracycline and enrofloxacin.