NEW DELHI: If you have been giving your kids honey bought from the market in the hope that it will help boost immunity and fight bacterial infections, this could come as a shock. According to a study carried out by the Centre for Science and Environment, most honey brands being sold in the country contain varying amounts of antibiotics and their consumption over time could induce resistance to antibiotics, lead to blood-related disorders and injury to the liver.
CSE said the study busts the myth that commercially produced honey was a ‘natural’ and ‘pure’ product. For the study, 12 samples were picked in Delhi, all well known brands including one each from Australia and Switzerland.
“Other than a single brand, Hitkari Honey, all were found to contain multiple antibiotics. While there are no standards for antibiotics in India, the honey samples would have failed the standards set for export by the Export Inspection Council. The two foreign brands also do not meet their own domestic standards,” said Sunita Narain, director, CSE.
Antibiotics are widely used by beekeepers. In 1965, an Italian species was introduced in India by Punjab Agriculture University due to its better yield. But it was frail and needed heavier doses.
Oxytetracycline, an antibiotic, is widely used by keepers to get queen bees to lay more eggs. “While no checks are prescribed for antibiotics in honey, when we procure our stock we do not know whether it contains the drugs. The industry has been aware of the problem for several years. Most big industries are not concerned with manufacturing and only sell packaged honey. It is only a question of knowing the areas where such methods of bee-rearing are not used,” said Nitin Malhotra, general manager, Hitkari Pharmacy, manufacturers of Hitkari Honey.
Hitkari does not have a huge honey business and only operates in the field seasonally. “We get our honey from small bee owners, those not operating commercially. They work on such a small scale that they couldn’t think of using antibiotics or pesticides,” added Malhotra.
Narain says since there are no domestic standards, no monitoring is carried out. Honey meant for international markets, meanwhile, goes through stringent checks. “That stock which gets rejected for export since it is considered unsafe for consumption finds its way back to the domestic market. A total of seven companies own all commercial bee farms in India. The European Union has rejected Indian exports on several occasions. For this, India set up export standards but doesn’t seem to care about what Indians are consuming. However, we have found a lot of the honey is actually coming from China where costs are comparatively quite low,” she said.
Honey in India is regulated under three legislations that include prevention of food adulteration rules, 1955, Bureau Of Indian Standards and AGMARK. Anuraag Sharma, director, Shree Baidyanath Ayurved Bhavan Pvt Ltd told TOI: “We do not manufacture honey. We subscribe to AGMARK and carry out all checks. However, no specific parameters have been set for antibiotics so we do not check for those. Checks should actually be carried out at the beekeeping level.”