The Australian honey industry has been well aware of the issues of natural plant alkaloids (PAs) in honey from all over the world for many years. It has worked to remove the risk of identified plant toxins by managing out the supply of Paterson’s Curse honey from the Australian honey supply chain.
Historical research from some time ago has identified honey from Paterson’s Curse (Echium plantagineum) to contain natural plant alkaloids.
As a consequence of modern farming techniques the amount of honey produced from this agricultural weed has declined dramatically over the last decade. Farmer’s actions, such as less to no fallow rotation of crops, better use of more selective herbicides and the major success of biological control programs have reduced the presence of this weed to next to nothing. This has resulted in an insignificant production of this type of honey in Australia.
A recent study out of Ireland has driven an alarmist headline which ignores key facts. The study is misleading in that it overstates consumption of honey and underestimates body weight creating a misleading conclusion completely out of touch with reality.
The Irish research uses a figure for the average adult of 60kgs when considering toxicity. The Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows the average Australian male weighs 85.9kgs and the average female 71.1kg. Thus the research exaggerates the toxicity likelihood.
No Health Risks
No new studies have been done surrounding the health risks of PAs in the global food system. It should be noted, that there is not one single case documented of human health being unfavourably affected as a consequence of the consumption of honey containing very low levels of alkaloids. It should also be noted that the alkaloid found in Paterson’s Curse is mainly echimidine, which has been shown to have significantly less toxicity than the other plant alkaloids found in European plants.
Despite this, there remains no scientific evidence illustrating that consuming such honey leads to unfavourable clinical human health concerns.
Australia has a rigorous risk averse food safety system and consumers of Australian honey have nothing to fear and they should continue to enjoy our great Australian honeys.