Honey industry stung by traces of antibiotics, lead

India's flourishing honey industry, based primarily in Punjab, has pressed the panic button after over 90 per cent of export samples were found contaminated with residues of antibiotics and lead.

With the possibility of a ban on Indian honey in Europe, UK, Canada and Australia looming large, Doraha-based International Institute of Beekeepers and Agro-Enterprises (IBA), a non-profit autonomous body undertaking research and training on beekeeping, has now written to the Union ministries of agriculture and commerce for help.

While the source of antibiotic contamination is the indiscriminate use of medicines by beekeepers due to a bacterial disease caused to the bees by a small mite, the lead traces are from beekeepers reusing ghee and oil tins for storage and transportation. "Honey is acidic and reacts with the tin leading to high lead traces," says Prof L R Verma, who heads the IBA.

With per capita honey consumption at a high 40 gm in most of the countries importing from India, a ban on Indian honey will cripple the industry here, says Jagjit Singh Kapoor of Kashmir Apiaries, which was recently awarded the quality honey export award by the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry for the eighth consecutive year.

Through its training programmes the IBA is now trying to create awareness among beekeepers on non-chemical methods of beekeeping.

"The beekeepers need to maintain proper hygiene in the bee colonies for keeping the bees clean and healthy," says Prof Verma, adding that the problem of high lead residue can be checked by supplying epoxy-coated food containers at subsidised rates to the beekeepers.

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