Antibiotic found in honey samples

Agnes Lam

No health risk, says watchdog, but vendors and supermarkets told to remove stock

A potentially harmful antibiotic has been found in six honey samples tested by the consumer rights watchdog.

The samples contained chloramphenicol, which can cause aplastic anaemia, a condition where bone marrow does not produce enough red and white blood cells or platelets.

But the Consumer Council says the levels do not pose a health risk.

'The antibiotic is used for the treatment of different bacterial infections including eye infections but it is banned in food under the law,' assistant director of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department Thomas Chung Wai-hung said.

'Normal consumption of the honey is very unlikely to pose any health risk, as the level of the antibiotics found in the samples are very low.'


The reduced number of blood cells can lead to infections and blood clotting problems.

The six honey samples include DongSuh Bee Honey from Korea, Seasoning Gallery Wild Ash Flower Honey from the mainland, and a popular brand Best Buy Barbecue Honey also from the mainland.

The amount of chloramphenicol found in the six samples ranges from 6.4 microgram per kilogram to 0.2.

The department also examined 19 honey samples, two of which were found to contain the antibiotic. Fresh Royal Jelly from the mainland contained 9.6 micrograms of chloramphenicol per kilogram, while 1.4 micrograms per kilogram were found in Lychee Honey produced by Po Sang Yuen Bee Farm Hong Kong.


'Members of the public should not be too worried, as the amount found is very little,' Dr Chung said.

He explained the presence of antibiotic in honey products was probably caused by farmers who might have fed antibiotics to their bees to keep them healthy.


'The body fluid of bees and other parts of their bodies will contain the antibiotic once the drug is used, and maybe this is why honey produced by them contains chloramphenicol,' he said.

Lychee Honey producer, Po Sang Yuen Bee Farm Hong Kong said they did not feed their bees with any antibiotics.

'If we really have fed the bees with antibiotics, the amount found would not be so little. The bees probably collected honey from flowers which have antibiotics, as plants are sometimes sprayed with pesticide,' said Edmund Leung Lap-tak, the farm's manager.


The council has already notified suppliers, agents, vendors and supermarkets to recall the honey products from shelves.

'Consumers are advised to get their refunds if they purchased any of the products in question,' vice-chairman of the council's publicity and community relations committee Ching Pak-chung said.

Chloramphenicol in food is prohibited, and offenders are subjected to a maximum penalty of $50,000 and six months in jail.