Dry summer prompts honey caution

Thursday 14 March, 2013

As the long, dry summer continues, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is warning that drought conditions in some parts of the country could lead to higher than usual levels of tutin in honey.

Tutin contamination, which causes toxicity in honey, is often found in late-season honey harvested in the North Island and top of the South Island. It occurs when bees collect honeydew from passion-vine hoppers that have been feeding on tutu (Coriaria arborea), a poisonous New Zealand shrub.

Limits for tutin in honey are set in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code and beekeepers have a number of options to ensure their honey meets these limits. These options are set out in the Food (Tutin in Honey) Standard 2010.

According to the standard beekeepers in risk areas must test honey harvested after 1 January each year – the risk period for tutin contamination – unless they have done a detailed survey of their bees’ predictable foraging area to determine it is not a significant growing area for tutu.

“If a beekeeper has any doubts about the safety of their honey, the best option is always to thoroughly blend it and have it tested at one of the commercial laboratories that offer this service,” MPI Principal Adviser Animal Products Jim Sim says.

Tutin is well known as a natural toxin in honey in some parts of New Zealand. In April 2008, a total of 22 people fell seriously ill after eating tutin contaminated honey comb.

“The onus is on beekeepers to ensure any honey they sell is safe,” Mr Sim says.

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Miriam Meister, Senior Communications Adviser
Telephone: 04-894 2466 or 029 894 2466
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