Take Care, Honey !
They say, you are what you eat. But do we know what we are eating?
Do we know who is cooking and who is serving us the food we take into our kitchens and then into our bodies?
The more I dig into this issue, it is clear that our world of food is spinning in directions that we know nothing about. This is not the way it should be.
Take honey. A sweet preserve that we take for granted comes from the bees
that collect it from the nectar of flowers. We pick up the bottle from our
local shop, believing that the honey has been collected naturally, it is
fresh and certainly without any contaminants.
In most cases, we would even think that small farmers produced it or it was
collected from the wild and packaged by large companies. In any event, we
believe it is the honey that nature produced, collected and delivered to us,
as nature would have wanted.
But little do we know how the business of honey has changed. Nobody explains
that the culture of food is intrinsically linked to biodiversity, of plants
But mess with biodiversity and you mess with food. The ubiquitous bee is one
such instance. Some years ago, leading scientific institutions sold the idea
of introduction of the European bee (Apis mellifera) into India, as it was a
more prolific producer of honey.
This economically viable bee took over the business, virtually replacing the
humble but more adapted Indian bee (Apis cerana) from our food. At the same
time, the business of honey was also transformed.
It moved away from the small producers collecting honey from the wild and
cultivating honey in natural conditions. It got consolidated into a highly
organised business, controlled by a handful of companies.
Now it is these companies that handle all aspects of the trade - from the
supply of the queen bee to the paraphernalia of bee-housing, feeding and
disease-control to the producers, spread across different states.
It is an outsourced business, run by franchisees whose job is to find
places, like the apple farms of Himachal, where there is nectar for bees to
We have lost the biodiversity of the bee and we have lost the diversity of
the business. Business is not about food. It is about commerce.
But nature has its way of getting back at us. The European bee is now
showing signs of over-use across the world.
In the US and in Europe, there is worrying news about honeybee colony
collapses – where bees are disappearing from colonies, not to return. This
is hitting crop production as bees play a critical role in pollinating food
crops across the US – a service, which is officially billed at some $20
The trade in pollinator bees involves carting bee colonies across the
county, where crops need their service. But now there is evidence that this
overwork, combined with the use of nasty new pesticides, new diseases and
immune-suppressed bees, is destroying bees.
In India, we are no different. The dependence on one introduced species and
emphasis on over-production mean bees are overworked in this competitive
As disease grows, the answer is to feed bees antibiotics liberally, mixed in
sugar and other syrups. The bee makes honey and with it comes the lethal
dose of unwanted antibiotics in our food.
When the Pollution Monitoring Laboratory of the Centre for Science and
Environment (CSE) checked honey, it found a cocktail of antibiotics - mostly
banned and severely prohibited to be in our food.
It found everything from the commonly used Ampicilin, Enrofloxacin,
Ciprofloxacin, Erythromycin to the strictly banned Chloramphenicol in the
honey made and packaged by the biggest and the most known. These antibiotics
in food are bad for us, as any doctor will tell you, because they add to the
bugs getting resistant to antibiotics.
The fact is that CSE’s laboratory checked two foreign brands bought from our
local store. We know that there is strict control in these countries against
antibiotics. In fact, Europe has kicked hell and banned Indian honey for
having these antibiotics.
They do this because they say they care about their health.
Good. But the question is what about our health? Who cares about this? Both
brands that were checked had the same and even higher levels of antibiotics
in them. The fact is that why should they care, when our government does
not? The same government, which makes strict standards for the exported
honey, could not care about what we are using domestically. There are no
standards for antibiotics in Indian honey.
There is certainly no check on what ends up on our tables and in our bodies.
But do not be surprised. This is the age of takeover by the big and the
powerful only because we have compromised and have complicit food
regulators. The recently set up Food Safety and Standards Authority has been
dead on entry.
Do not be surprised. But be angry. This is not a takeover we should allow.
It is about us. Our bodies. Our self.
Your comment is very much awaited.