Wednesday 24 March 2010
A New Zealand company has applied to the Food Standards Agency for approval to market the venom from the honeybee as a novel food ingredient.
A novel food is a food or food ingredient that does not have a significant history of consumption within the European Union before 15 May 1997.
The venom is extracted from the honeybee (Apis mellifera) using a milking apparatus procedure. The venom is then dried and added to honey. The company, Nelson Honey and Marketing (New Zealand) Ltd, states that the venom may help to alleviate symptoms of arthritis.
Honey containing venom has been on the New Zealand market since 1996, but it is considered novel in the European Union.
Before any new food product can be introduced on the European market it must be rigorously assessed for safety. In the UK, the assessment of novel foods is carried out by an independent committee of scientists appointed by the Food Standards Agency, the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP).
Deadline for comments on ACNFP draft opinion
The ACNFP has considered this application and has prepared a draft opinion. Any comments on this draft opinion should be sent to the ACNFP secretariat at firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday 2 April 2010. Comments will be taken into account by the committee before it adopts its final opinion on this ingredient.
The following is the Conclusion from the Draft ACNFP Report. For a copy of the full draft report, go to: http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/draftopinionhoneybeevenom.pdf
The Committee’s main concerns about this novel ingredient were related to allergenicity, as the ingestion of bee venom demonstrably has the ability to cause anaphylaxis in individuals who have previously been sensitised to bee stings.
The Committee agreed that strongly worded warning labelling could minimise the risk to consumers who are aware that they are allergic to bee stings. The Committee was concerned, however, that a proportion of the population with this allergy may be unaware of it (it was noted that it is an uncommon occurrence for most people to be stung by a bee) and warning labelling would not protect these consumers.
Members also noted that the consumption of bee venom may have the ability to sensitise previously non allergic but genetically susceptible individuals to allergens in bee venom and it is unlikely that this uncertainty could be addressed by additional studies.
The Committee therefore concluded its initial assessment of bee venom as an ingredient to be added to honey and stated that it was unable to advise with any certainty that bee venom, used as a food ingredient, is safe for consumers. It was unable to quantify the likelihood of potential risks relating to the two issues described above, namely:
The risk of immediate and serious allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, in individuals who are unknowingly allergic to bee venom (for example from earlier bee stings) and who later become consumers of the novel ingredient. The possibility that the ingredient may sensitise some genetically susceptible individuals so that they suffer serious allergic responses on later exposure to bee venom, for example via bee stings.
If, notwithstanding this initial assessment by the Committee, bee venom were to be authorised for addition to honey, the Committee remained concerned about the cariogenic properties of honey and that the proposed use of the novel ingredient in honey could lead to an increased risk of dental caries. Therefore, the Committee stated that honey with bee venom would need to be labelled with advice that it should be consumed as a replacement for other sugars, so as not to increase total sugar intake by consumers of the product."