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New research has found Australian honey is contaminated with natural poison, but what does the research mean for those with a sweet tooth?   

Is some Australian honey unacceptably high in toxins?

Yes... if the recent research is accurate and if you are going by European food standards.

New research suggests Australian honey may be contaminated. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

The Irish researchers found that the Australian honeys tended to have much higher concentrations of toxins called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) than brands from elsewhere.


The average Australian honey sampled had more than four times the concentration of the toxins than an average sample from another country.

PAs are linked to chronic diseases and are found in poisonous weeds and plants that Australian honey can be partially sourced from

So how much honey can I safely eat?

22 of 59 types of Australian types of honey tested were so high in PAs that an average Australian man would consume more than the tolerable daily intake after just one teaspoonful, under European food safety guidelines.

Hang on, how did you get that figure?

The safe level of PAs in honey that you can consume depends on your weight, based on the guidelines.  This means young children and babies being breastfed are particularly vulnerable.

It also depends on the honey brand you choose. 

The researchers found 41 of the 59 types of Australian honey were contaminated with PAs. The varieties that met European guidelines were Tasmanian organic, Tasmanian leatherwood, gum honey, yellow box, mudgee, red gum and winter flower.

What if I was following the strictest guidelines and was eating the most contaminated Australian honey brand?

One organic brand had a reading of 932 micrograms per kilogram of honey but a handful had incredibly miniscule toxin concentrations.

Based on Europe's standards, the average Australian man would be over the daily limit for toxins after consuming just 0.6 grams of that honey, while the average Australian woman would be over after 0.5 grams. Less for kids and women who are pregnant or nursing infants.

But what about under Australia's rules? 

Australia's food standards body allows concentrations of PAs of more than 140 times what the European authorities permit.

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand dictate that the average Australian man can happily guzzle down more than 15 teaspoons of the most contaminated honey sample a day without a second thought about toxins. And the average woman could safely have almost 13 teaspoonsful.

Whose guidelines are better?

FSANZ recently acknowledged international research that suggested its daily tolerable intake limits "should be reduced".

On Wednesday a spokesperson said it had sent an expert to the WHO committee in Rome last year and would wait for new international food safety limits before reconsidering its current approach to pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

But on Thursday FSANZ's page was updated to include a statement that said Australian honeys had different types of PAs that were less dangerous than their European equivalents' concentrations, and cautioned against connecting PA levels directly to illness or cancer risk.

University of Adelaide medicine senior lecturer Ian Musgrave said European guidelines were more stringent largely because of more conservative estimates of cancer risk.

He said PAs had been shown to cause cancer in rats, but the risk was more indirect in people. The most recent research, however, also showed a potential cancer risk existed in human cells.

Have toxin levels been dropping in Australian honeys?

The Australian Honeybee Industry Council says they have, because Paterson's Curse, the poisonous plant that some Australian honey is sourced from, is not as widespread nowadays.

Although the results of the study were published in October 2015, the honey tested in the research was purchased from stores around Sydney in 2011 and 2012.  The council's chief executive Trevor Weatherhead said honey now on supermarket shelves was not derived from the plant.

"In the last few years in particular, the biological control program in place for Paterson's Curse has really taken off and it's just not out there anymore," he said. "The amount of honey we are producing from Paterson's curse would be negligible."

Should I avoid honey made from Paterson's curse?

University of Queensland's Andrew Bartholomaeus said people "would be wise to avoid" honey produced solely or predominantly from Patterson's curse, which is generally only available from specialist outlets or farmers markets.

Have any Australians been poisoned from honey?

FSANZ said there have been no reports of acute poisoning from honey in Australia and New Zealand.

-With Marika Dobbin

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Who can you believe?  We've been using honey as sugar substitute for my son in breakfasts, and some drinks ....

Is this a similar article?

In the end, all forms of sugar no matter how they are derived, end up as glucose in our bodies. Because glucose is the fuel for our cells. Debatable perhaps, but no one form of sugar is more beneficial to our bodies than another.

Natural sweetness of fruits and vegetables is probably the safest forms since there is a limit to how much of each we will eat in a day.

It's when we add sugars that we run into difficulties with sugar overload.

Carbohydrates no matter what source they are from also end up as glucose in our bodies. I can see some reasoning behind a low-carb diet.

Going overboard in any way with food can result in imbalances. Moderation in all things!

Sorry, I did a search on honey, but that post didn't come up, and I've been out of touch with BLF lately.

I've added tags for Christa's post now. :)


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