Toxic tutu honey scare frustrates beekeepers

01:43, Jan 31 2009
CONCERNED: Marlborough Beekeepers' Association president Darren Clifford is worried a hobbyist beekeeper could affect the whole industry.

Commercial beekeepers are concerned consumers will be put off buying honey because of the toxic honey scare.

So far 10 people have become sick after eating comb honey produced by a Whangamata hobbyist beekeeper, with three of them hospitalised.

The toxic honey was produced as a result of bees feeding on honeydew containing poison from native tutu bushes.

The New Zealand Food Safety Authority website identifies Coromandel, Eastern Bay of Plenty and the Marlborough Sounds as areas which regularly produce toxic honey.

Marlborough Beekeepers' Association president Darren Clifford said he was concerned that an unregulated hobbyist selling comb honey could affect the whole industry.

Most commercial producers knew what they were doing and were stringently audited, he said.


However, there were no regulations and no controlling authority for hobbyists, he said.

"It's frustrating," he said. "I've been saying for last 10 years this will happen.

"You get green and happy people producing their own honey and they have a bit extra that they sell, but there's regulation whatsoever."

Clifford, whose business has 2500 bee hives including in the Marlborough Sounds, said his company did not take comb honey from areas where there was any risk.

Instead it took from clover and blue borage areas where there was no risk.

Consumers could be assured about buying safe honey if they bought from supermarkets or other reputable suppliers, he said.

He was concerned at the popularity of consumers buying from roadside stalls and markets without knowing the risks.

"People want to buy straight from the producer but there are risks," he said.

He knew of other areas beyond the Marlborough Sounds where tutu bushes grew, such as in the Nelson Lakes area.

Kevin Prout, the Coromandel hobby apiarist suspected of producing the toxic honey, is remaining silent until tests either confirm his product was to blame or clear his name.

The Food Safety Authority is investigating Prout, who runs Projen Apiary at Whangamata. He employs no staff and has been in the business about five months.

Yesterday, Prout said he would not comment until the test results, due by the end of the week, were known.

One of those to fall ill was Thames-Coromandel district councillor Jan Bartley.

Despite this, Bartley wanted people to know Prout and his wife were "good citizens".

"It's unfortunate," Bartley said. "They are good citizens and in fairness to them that should be understood."

Bartley lives near the Prouts' daughter and, in an ironic twist, his son produced the labels that went on the honey containers.


The Press