Residues of Antibiotics found in Imported Honey

I have recently had a number of enquiries from beekeepers about the recent news about residues of antibiotics being found in honey imported from China. This is apparently causing some purchasers of English honey to ask beekeepers whether similar residues might exist in honey that they sell. It may therefore be helpful to have some further information on this subject, and so I draw your attention to the following sources:

The European Union website
Press Release from the above site

EU Standing Veterinary Committee agrees on suspension of imports of products of animal origin from China

DN: IP/02/143 Date: 28/01/2002


Brussels, 25 January 2002

EU Standing Veterinary Committee agrees on suspension of imports of products of animal origin from China

The Standing Veterinary Committee (SVC) voted today in favour of a Commission proposal to suspend the import into the EU of Chinese products of animal origin intended for human consumption or for use in animal feed. This suspension will enter into force shortly with the adoption of a Commission Decision. Products already on route will be allowed into the EU but will be subject to increased controls and testing by Member States. The main products affected by the suspension in volume terms are honey, rabbit meat, poultry and crustaceans such as shrimps and prawns. A recent mission of the EU's Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) revealed serious deficiencies of the Chinese residue control system and problems related to the use of banned substances in the veterinary field. EU directives stipulate that necessary measures must be taken for imports of products from third countries which are likely to constitute a serious danger to human or animal health (directives 97/78/EC and 95/53/EC for animal nutrition). The Commission will re-examine the situation together with Member States before the end of February. The Commission intends to work urgently with the Chinese authorities with a view to putting in place the necessary measures to allow trade to resume.

FVO inspection to China

Inspectors from the EU's Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) visited China in November 2001 to evaluate the control of residues in live animals and animal products. Member States were informed about the findings and conclusions of the FVO visit at the SVC meeting in December. In the light of further discoveries of banned substances, the Commission now considers that a safeguard measure is warranted.

Chinese exports to the EU

Chinese products affected by the ban are rabbit meat, poultry meat, honey, molluscs, crustaceans, frozen shrimps and prawns, and pet food. In 2000 those imports were worth   327.7 million. The following products will not be affected by the ban: fishery products from open sea fishing (except crustaceans) and casings. The import of those products from China into the EU was worth   400.4 million in 2000.

The decision will be reviewed in the light of any further information offered by the competent Chinese authorities and on the basis of the results of any further FVO inspections necessary.

Note for editors:

Chloramphenicol in shrimps

There have been chloramphenicol residues in samples from shrimps and prawns imported from China. The presence of chloramphenicol in food presents a potential risk for human health. It is a potent, broad-spectrum antibiotic drug, which is banned for use in food producing animals in the EU since 1994. It is used in human medicine only in serious situations.

The Food Standards Website page at

Describes the finding of residues of the antibiotic streptomycin in Chinese honey.

The FSA web page at
Describes the later find of residues of the antibiotic chloramphenicol, and the decision to withdraw jars of Chinese and blended honey (which frequently contains Chinese honey) from sale in the UK. The significance of these of these residues and any potential risk to human health are described on both the FSA web pages.

My interpretation of these findings are that Chinese beekeepers are using antibiotics to control brood disease - probably American foul brood. This practice is common in many countries world-wide where AFB is endemic, and where large-scale and inappropriate use of antibiotics in bee colonies occurs, it is not surprising that detectable residues are found in honey.

Of course, in the UK, the use of antibiotics by beekeepers to control foulbrood is prohibited (largely to prevent such contamination of honey) and so similar residues should certainly not be present. This may be a point that is worth stressing to potential purchasers of our honey.

At the same time, this issue illustrates how vital it now is that any honey offered for sale is free from any unwanted residues, and should serve as a reminder to all of us how vital it is that we use only the correct medicaments in our colonies and strictly follow the instructions provided with them.

James Morton
South-Eastern Regional Bee Inspector
Central Science Laboratory
National Bee Unit
Tel/fax: 020 8571 6450
Mobile: 07719 924 418