Apicultural Review Letters

Letter # 422
2010 January 26

Manuka Health And Organic Honey - Which Standards Are Relevant For Social Medicine / Natural Apitherapy?

Manuka Honey and Quality Standards

More and more until now unknown substances and health-promoting properties of bee products such as methylglyoxal content in Manuka honey are going to be detected by scientists. Thomas Henle from University of Dresden: “Manuka honey should be one of the few food items for which a health-promoting property beyond the basic nutritional function can be clearly documented. Health claims require significant scientific consensus, and I think from a scientific point of view, the data concerning the methylglyoxal-induced antimicrobal properties of Manuka honey are very promising to fulfil the requirements” [1]

An important Standard for Activity of Manuka Honey: methylglyoxal content based on standards developed by University of Dresden. For example, MGO™100 Manuka Honey is certified to contain at least 100mg/kg of dietary methylglyoxal, the minimum required for health benefits. These quality standards aren't of any use, if Manuka Honey is not produced, harvested and filled according strict standards:

"Diese Qualitätsmerkmale nutzen allerdings nichts, wenn der Manuka Honig nicht nach den entsprechenden Standards produziert, geerntet und abgefüllt wurde. Denn Manuka Honige, auch Bio Manuka Honige, die in Europa angeboten werden, sind vielfach genauso produziert, geerntet und abgefüllt worden wie andere Honige auch." [2][3][4][5]

Health Applications

Today the health applications for Manuka honey and beeproducts for social medicine have greatly expanded and new areas are continually emerging. As well as providing the well-known benefits of natural honey against winter ills and chills, these beeproducts as well as Manuka honeys have even proven effective in supporting good digestive health, wound healing and healthy skin. Demand not only for Manuka honey as a natural health solution is growing rapidly worldwide. Find more health applications in special cure packages. [4]

Relation between Active UMF® & MGO™

The elder UMF® certification system did not identify the compound in the honey responsible for the special anti-bacterial activity of manuka honey. No one did know what it was until very recently when University of Dresden, Germany discovered it was methylglyoxal. This has created a wonderful opportunity to convince consumers of the special properties because they relate very quickly to the concept of a compound being responsible for the anti-bacterial activity. Also the measurement of the content can be shown e.g. 100 mg/kg. MGO™100 manuka honey is the minimum methylglyoxal content required to kill all the major bacteria. This is equivalent to UMF®10.

Active 5+ = MGO™ 30
UMF® 10 = MGO™ 100
UMF® 16 = MGO™ 250
UMF® 20 = MGO™ 400
UMF® 25 = MGO™ 550

Beeproducts and Beekeeping Methods According Standards of Social Medine / Natural Apitherapy Research Centre

However, is it enough introducing MGO™ manuka honey? Of course there are plenty of fake manuka brands. These brands piggy-back on the reputation of manuka honey and other beeproducts for social medicine. Consumers cannot distinguish between the sub-brands they see: Active, Bio-active, OMHA etc and they don't really know if bees were kept naturally according standards for social medine or not. [4][5]

Of course Thomas Henle, Head of the Institute of Food Chemistry at the Technical University of Dresden, writing in Molecular Nutrition and
Food Research, refers to the results of a Dresden study which “unambiguously demonstrates for the first time that Methylglyoxal is directly responsible for the antibacterial activity of manuka honey.” [1]

Of course researchers at the university analysed 40 samples of honey from various sources around the world, including six New Zealand manuka honeys. They found Methylglyoxal levels in the manuka honeys, including a Manuka Health product, were up to 1000-fold higher than in the non-manuka products. [1]

Of course the Technical University of Dresden is one of the oldest and most prestigious German Universities, located in Saxony (http://tu-dresden.de) The university’s Institute of Food Chemistry is a world leader in food analysis, in particular analysis of compounds resulting from glycation reactions and carbohydrate degradation (a process which proteins and carbohydrates undergo during food processing and storage). [1]

Of Course the university’s skill base attracts major multi-nationals to collaborate in research. New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra interchanges staff and students with the university to carry out research. [1]

Nevertheless, the quality of food and especially beeproducts for social medicine / apitherapeutical and cosmetic use cannot be clearified by common analytic methods and techniques. Analytic procedures are too crude; thats the reason why foodstuff inspectors were often easy game for the swindlers (see melamin scandal with giant companies from China and New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra). Also methods of harvesting propolis, pollen and honey are very often anything but according the needs of bees. Even socalled "organic" beeswax, propolis or Manuka honey may be contaminated with beeswax that contains low amounts of pesticides or paraffin. Thus, raw honey, Manuka honey, beeswax, beesbread, pollen and propolis may be contaminated, especially if beekeeping methods are not according standards of Social Medine / natural Apitherapy Research Center / Centre for ecological Apiculture. [2][3]

Honeybees in Switzerland collect pollen from maize, also GM-maize (which is not yet prohibited in Switzerland), more frequently than expected; these pollen can be found in beeproducts (pollen, beesbread, comb in the comb, propolis, beeswax) from Switzerland or other countries who allow GM-crops to be grown such as USA, Canada, China, Philippine Islands,  Brasil, Argentina, Mexico, Romania, Czech, Slovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, South Africa, Australia, India, Uruguay, Spain, Portugal. Food containing GM-maize or compounds of other genetically engineered crops are toxic as new scientific research turned out. [2][3]

Organic Honey and Organic Manuka Honey - in Conformity with Standards of Social Medine / Natural Apitherapy Centre?

Organic Honey and other organic beeproducts do not live up to expectations. In most cases organic / natural beekeeping is pretended, in parts even ecological or beekeeping considering the character of bees. You can see pictures of straw hives and so on allthought there is almost no difference between organic and non-organic beekeeping method. The beecolonies are neither kept ecological in organic apiaries nor in non-organic apiaries. The "traditional" framehive beekeeping with sugar feeding allows organic beekeepers to harvest as much honey as beekeepers from other beekeeping associations. Thus there is no reason for higher prices in the organic honey sector, as this kind of organic beekeeping supports the worldwide disappearing of of bees.

In beekeeping considering the character of bees the beekeeper turns one's attention to supporting a harmonical developement of the bee-colony during the year and its natural way of living. Unfortunately, this is being neglected in many apiaries - even in organic apiaries. In the USA for instance apiaries with 50.000 colonies are nothing unusual. The colonies are being loaded on trucks in units of  500 colonies and are being transported with open flightholes for days and more than 4.000 km. The way of keeping bees in Europe or especially Germany is similar; framehive-beekeeping (Langstroth, Dadant etc.) - although the opposite of ecological beekeeping - is widespread, also among organic apiaries(!); travelling with beecolonies is also very common; 30.000 km per year is nothing unusual for such an apiary - therefore "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD) may also occur in Europe or Germany.

Making full use of travelling with beecolonies is very common among organic beekeepers; this is a reason why also organic beeproduce such as honey, comb in the comb, beesbread and propolis can be contaminated with pesticides and antibiotics from time time. There are many areas in the world like we have in Baden-Württemberg (federal state of Germany); in this federal state of Germany more than 11.000 hectaria fruit farming regions were sprayed with Streptomyzin. Large amounts of honey and other beeproduce had beed contaminated with Streptomyzin, because main infection time is during flowering time of fruit farming areas. In Baden-Württemberg more than 8.000 kg Honey had been polluted with Streptomycin of more than 0,02 mg/kg. According german regulation on maximum permissible limits this peak load was allowed until September 2008. In season 2009 the new Europien peak dose is 0,01 mg/kg. Diseases of fruit farming regions in Germany is covering only the whole territory of the federal states Baden-Württemberg and Bayern. The use of Streptomyzin in fruit farming regions is strictly conditional; it is only allowed to use it within a special warning system; these warnings normally are very short termed, as they depend on weather conditions. Organic beekeepers of course take care that their hives are being located on field managed organically, but they don't care that their bees also fly to conventional fields or fruit farming areas; this apply especially to organic apiaries who migrate with their hives.

Many authors who write about organic beekeeping or certified organic apiaries, have more phantasy and the ability of pure invention than real specialist knowledge. For instance the German author Claudia Bentzien: do not forget that regarding the organic apiary "the most important aims of an organic beekeeper is beekeeping considering the character of bees" - That would be perfect, if it were the aim of an organic beekeeper! The aims and principles of an organic apiary still remain rationalisation and higher yields at the expence of the beecolony's health, as shown in Apicultural Review Letters. Mrs. Bentzien describes the organic apiary highly imaginative in the most rosy colours; but the reality of organic beekeeping is different: those beekeepers who are allowed to use an organic label are allowed to feed sugar, to carry out artificial insemination of the queen - well, of course an "insemination of the queen without much injuring" should be guaranteed - , to use non natural queenbreeding methods ("grafting"), to add artificially created parts of the comb (which disturbs communication among the colony), to fix these artificially created parts of the comb with wire, even the Pressing-Methode is not prohibited; Some organic beekeepers even clip the wings of the queen to prevent swarming.

Even organic and bio-dynamic apiaries are allowed to use artificial parts of the combs, sulphur and smoke, to feed sugar and siropes,  to make full use of travelling with beecolonies, to use heat treatment for bee products. Thats the reason why it is useful purchasing apitherapeutical beeproducts from beekeeping considering the character of bees (certified according standards of Centre for ecological Apiculture); these beekeepers support a "longlasting fertility in beekeeping" in contrast to success in artificial beekeeping for a short time. These products cannot be found in organic shops or supermarkets; they can only be ordered directly in special apiaries. [4]
[1] Professor Dr. Henle is joint Editor in Chief of the journal“European Food Research and Technology”, president of the German Society of Food Chemistry, a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, and a referee of the German Research Society. (An abstract of Prof Henle’s article is available from the Molecular Nutrition and Food Research website - http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/109582334/issue)
[2] Social Medicine / Natural Apitherapy Research Center / Centre for ecological Apiculture 2010: Quality of products from beecolonies such as beeswax, raw honey, comb in the comb, comb honey, pollen, beesbread, propolis and royal jelly - for social medicine, apitherapeutical and cosmetic use. Press release
[3] Centre for ecological Apiculture 2010: Old Traditions in Apiculture and Viniculture - Natural Honey (raw honey / run honey) or Organic Honey fom framehive beekeeping with smoke, sulphur and artificial parts of the comb? Press release
[4] Sources of supply for manukahoney, raw honey and other bee products for social medicine / natural Apitherapy and cosmetic use as well as list of beeproducts from certified Partner- Apiaries of Centre for ecological Apiculture
[5] Forschungszentrum soziale Medizin / Natuerliche Apitherapy 2010: Manukahonig und Biohonig - Welche Standards sind für die soziale Medizin relevant? Api Review Letters 9, Nr. 423

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