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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 15:23 GMT
Honey scare sparks shortage
Bees must work harder from now on
There is a UK-wide shortage of honey after a ban on the sale of Chinese supplies because of health fears.

The British Retail Consortium and the Honey Association say supermarkets have sold out.

An EU-wide ban on honey from China followed concern about the lack of controls on the use of veterinary medicines.

It seems people have been panic-buying

David Southwell
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) called for the withdrawal from sale of all jars of Chinese and blended honey last month.

Tests had revealed traces of an antibiotic called chloramphenicol in 10 out of 16 samples.

A team of independent scientific experts said there was only an extremely small risk to the consumer, but in larger doses chloramphenicol can cause cancer.

It is estimated that between a third and a half of all blended honey on sale in the UK comes from China. Approximately 80% of honey consumed in the UK is blended.

Search for sources

Another big honey supplier is New Zealand, whose bee population has been plagued by an outbreak of blood-sucking mites.

Along with Australia, it supplied 8.5% of imports before the ban on Chinese honey and it had been hoped it could make up the shortfall.

Mexico, Spain and Canada are now among the likely sources of extra supplies, the Honey Association said.

A spokesman said: "There is honey available out there but it will take time to arrive."

It is unlikely British honey producers will be able to take up all of the slack.

Remaining stocks

Before the recent crisis the UK honey market was worth 40 million, with around 17,000 tonnes bought a year.

More than 90% is imported, with only 1,000 tonnes produced at home and sold through shops.

The run on remaining stocks has left honey lovers scratching their heads.

The advice is to try to buy it from specialist health food stores until stocks are replenished more generally.

The BRC believes restocking could come soon.

Supply chains

Spokesman David Southwell said: "There is still honey out there in the shops but it is the premium, organic, locally-produced types which people are buying.

"We are seeing stocks returning but it will always take some time for supply chains to change.

"Until then it seems people have been panic-buying."

Neil Todd, of health food group Holland and Barrett, told BBC News: "All we have got left is the dearer honeys, the manuka (New Zealand) honeys which are 5 or 6."

The FSA's advice last month was that people could continue to eat any honey they have already bought, irrespective of country of origin, despite the presence of the illegal chemical in some Chinese stock.

Scientists believe chloramphenicol is a contributory factor in developing aplastic anaemia, a rare but serious blood disorder that affects 50 to 100 people a year in the UK.

The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"The biggest names in honey have been taken off the shelves"
See also:

19 Feb 02 | Health
Honey tainted by antibiotics
16 May 00 | UK
GM pollen found in honey
09 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Give a bee a good home
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