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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Antibiotic-tainted honey from China tops FDA watch list

Lovely, something else to worry about.  What would Pooh do? According to Andrew Schneider of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the United States imports most of its honey and for years China was the biggest supplier.

But in 1997, a contagious bacterial epidemic raced through hundreds of thousands of Chinese hives, infecting bee larvae and slashing the country’s honey production by two-thirds. Chinese beekeepers had two choices: They could destroy infected hives or apply antibiotics. They chose to do the latter. That was a mistake, said Michael Burkett, a professor emeritus at Oregon State University and an internationally known authority on bees and honey.

"You hear about people shooting themselves in the foot? Well, the Chinese honey-sellers shot themselves in the head," he said.

The Chinese opted to use chloramphenicol, an inexpensive, broad-spectrum antibiotic that’s so toxic it’s used to treat only life-threatening infections in humans–and then only when other alternatives have been exhausted.

Now, 11 years later, some the honey buyers who take the trouble to test for it, still find the banned antibiotic in some of their imported honey. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says tainted honey from China is on top of its watch list and has been for six years–since the agency released the first of three "import alerts" targeted at banned substances in honey. FDA considers a food adulterated if, among other reasons, it contains an animal drug deemed unsafe for unapproved uses.  Chloramphenicol certainly meets that definition.

Anyone reading the back of his or her honey jar?