Last updated on 28 August 2012
New tests needed for antibiotic, review says
A literature review commissioned by the Food Standards Agency in Scotland (FSAS) has recommended that an alternative test should be developed for detecting whether the antibiotic nitrofurazone has been used in the production of honey.
Nitrofurazone has the potential to cause cancer in humans, so it is banned from use in food-producing animals in the UK and the EU. Semicarbazide (SEM) is a metabolite of nitrofurazone and is a marker for the illegal use of nitrofurazone in food-producing animals.
The literature review also recommends that an investigation should be carried out into how SEM may be naturally produced in honey.
Previous research has suggested that SEM could be found in a variety of foods unlikely to be exposed to nitrofurazone (see link below). This brought into question the validity of using SEM as a specific indicator for the use of nitrofurazone.
The detection of SEM in samples of Scottish heather honey in 2010 from hives that were unlikely to have been treated with nitrofurazone suggests also that SEM may have originated from some other currently-unidentified source.
The recommendations, which arise from a scientific literature review funded by FSAS, are included in a report is to be presented to the UK Veterinary Residues Committee for the committee’s consideration.
Following their review, the researchers have presented several hypotheses for the possible occurrence of SEM in foods, including heather honey, and have identified potential routes for such SEM formation. The review also makes a number of key recommendations for future field and laboratory work to allow the testing of these hypotheses.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that SEM is not a concern for human health at the levels found in food. However, if it could be proved that the presence of SEM in foods was due to natural processes, rather than as a breakdown product of nitrofurazone, this would provide additional reassurance to consumers.
Background to the research
The Food Standards Agency in Scotland commissioned a literature review to investigate whether there is any evidence for potential natural sources of SEM in honey and whether it might be produced by natural processes, especially in high-purity heather honey.
The first part of this project was a comprehensive review of the most recently-published literature relating to known natural sources and pathways for the formation of SEM in various foods, particularly honey. It also looked at potential hypothetical routes that might lead to the formation of SEM, focusing on any compounds that could act as precursors for the formation of SEM, especially in heather honey.
Drawing on the information obtained from the literature review, part two of the project presents several hypotheses for the possible occurrence of, and potential routes for the formation of, SEM in honey. It also offers key recommendation for future field and laboratory work that will allow the testing of these hypotheses.