Australian honeys are the most contaminated in the world, containing natural poisons and liver-damaging toxins, new international research claims.
The study published in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants found that the five Australian honeys tested had more contaminants than considered safe by the European Food Safety Authority. The products do however meet the Australian food safety standards, which allows honey sourced from restricted plants as long as the product is diluted with other honey.
Toxins get into the honey when bees forage in flowers rich in toxins known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in restricted plants.
Toxins get into the honey when bees forage in flowers rich in toxins known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in restricted plants, such as poisonous weeds Fireweed and Paterson’s Curse (also known as Salvation Jane). For European standards, the intolerable intake of toxins is 0.007 micrograms per kilogram of body weight, while the Australian recommendation is one microgram per one kilogram of body weight.
The study results found an average daily exposure of 0.051 micrograms per kilo of bodyweight for adults, and 0.204 for children – both below the Australian guidelines. However experts warned that pregnant and breastfeeding women in particular needed to be careful, with unborn and breastfed infants at higher risk of organ damage.
According to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand, “it is recommended that anyone, including pregnant or breastfeeding women, who consume more than two tablespoons of honey per day, don't eat Paterson’s Curse honey exclusively.”
For a 70 kg person consuming the average amount of honey (3 g per day), consumption of most of the Australian honeys would be safe at both European and Australian guidelines.
But Australians, who on average have three grams of honey per day, are well within safe levels of consumption.
What does three grams of honey look like? Depending on density, that’s around half a teaspoon of honey in your morning smoothie.
“For most Australians the risk is low,” says Dr Ian Musgrave, a senior lecturer in Pharmacology at the University of Adelaide.
“For a 70 kg person consuming the average amount of honey [three grams per day], consumption of most of the Australian honeys would be safe at both European and Australian guidelines.”
Dr Musgrave says that people who are high consumers of honey are at much greater risk. “Several honeys exceed both current Australian and European guidelines when consumed at levels seen in five per cent of the Australian population.” According to Musgrave, five per cent of Australians consume around two tablespoons (57 grams) of honey a day.
“While for the average consumer the risk is low, further investigation will be needed to understand the risk to more vulnerable groups.”