The unusual honey is made in New Zealand by Nelson Honey & Marketing, and the bee venom is ‘milked’ from insects and added to Manuka honey in minute doses of 20 μg/g (parts per million): the firm markets the product in that country within its NectarEase range of honeys, balms and food supplements as an anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial ingredient "especially beneficial for sufferers of arthritic pain".
But a FSA spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk that its Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes' (ACNFP) initial opinion on the product in July 2010 under Article 3(1) of Regulation 258/97 – subsequently endorsed by other EU member states before a final rejection in December 2010 – was based on “serious concerns” about the product’s allergenicity.
Allergic reaction risk
The spokesman said this included the risk of immediate and serious allergic reactions to the known toxin, including anaphylaxis, in individuals who are unknowingly allergic to bee venom, when consuming the novel ingredient: the panel estimated that venom levels were likely to be "at least 12 times higher" than when it naturally occured in some standard honies.
Another risk the ACNFP raised was the potential for low doses of bee venom to sensitise some “genetically susceptible” individuals so that they suffer serious allergic responses on later exposure to bee venom, for example via bee stings.
But Clinton Lammas, who runs the New Zealand firm’s UK subsidiary Nectar Ease, told FoodManufacture.co.uk that concerns about allergenicity were overblown.
FSA has big stick
Lammas said that only one New Zealand consumer was mentioned in the ACNFP’s initial opinon to have suffered a reaction since the honey hit shelves there in 1996, and that she was the “worst case” consumer, being particularly susceptible to allergies and having a known allergy to bee products in particular.
“We haven’t sold the product in the EU for 18 months or so, but unfortunately the FSA has a bloody big stick" he said, adding that his firm had since made a decision not to pursue novel foods approval further.
“The research cost a fortune the first time round, and it’s all the more disappointing because the [FSA] decision is hard to rationalise.”
Lammas added that Nectar Ease had returned to its core business having spent a six-figure sum compiling research for the Novel Foods application: “It’s all very depressing, and to be honest if I think about it too much then I’ll feel like poking my head in an oven.”
However, he said the research investment had not been wholly wasted, given that Nelson Honey & Marketing now has expertise in adding bee venom to honey in precise minute doses - on a part per million scale - and is "one of the few firms" worldwide with such expertise.