Australian Honey

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We exposed it once before now it's happened again.

Imported polluted honey poisoning the local industry and putting the public's health at risk, and once again our authorities are sitting their hands.

Ashley Modra, a third generation bee keeper from Gawler says while he's struggling to make ends meet, supermarket shelves are being loaded with suspect cheap imports mixed with local product.

"They bring in honey in from overseas, and using Australian honey, blending it, selling it back out the country as Australian honey at times," says Asley.

And that is where the rot set in four years ago. Our exported honey bearing the Australian name was found to be contaminated with the illegal antibiotic nitrofuran by the Canadians and instantly withdrawn from sale.

Lawyer and former chief food examiner Des Sibraa was alarmed to discover nitrofurens also present in locally sold honey but Australian authorities Food Standards Australia and New Zealand, took no action.

"They should have instigated... selling it," says Des.

Not only has this left consumers uncertain about the safety of the local product it is also undermining the local industry.

And through no fault of their own the Australian honey producers now find themselves facing oblivion. Lindsay Burke is a beekeeper who heads up the Australian Honeybee Industry Council.

"The Australian Honeybee Industry produces $80m worth of honey a year and beside that we pollinate $4billion worth of Australia's crops," explains Lindsay.

But here's the really disturbing news... Today Tonight has just obtained evidence that yet another illegal antibiotic has shown up in honey tested in June. This time, it's chloramphenicol which is "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen"

Yet once again our food authorities are unmoved by these finding saying...
"FSANZ does not consider that chloramphenicol residues in honey pose a high risk to public health and safety."

But the dangers that lurk in our honey jars pose a vastly more sinister threat than most consumers appreciate. There are other contaminants in the imports that have the potential to devastate our entire bee population.

The flow on from the decimation of the industry is as obvious as the lesson about the birds and bees.

"It's the most important agriculture industry that we have in Australia. Without bees, we wouldn't have food," says Lindsay.

Lindsay wants immediate action. Currently only 5% of imported honey is tested for impurities.

"We would like to change that to enable them to completely ban the product from coming here or doing 100% testing. If an importer wants to bring this sort of product into the country, at least they should be paying for it," he says.

Ashley Modra says he and beekeepers like him don't have much time to wait.

"Drought and the constant threat of imported diseases, combined with any drop in consumer confidence, might prove to be too much for many in the industry´┐Ż. it's real upsetting, but what can you do? The government's always like, 10 years behind the eight-ball."

"The only way we can really get ahead is stopping the imports of the honey and make our product go up more. It's the best, more or less in the world, i'd say. So why isn't there a future there?"

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