From Mr Andy Pedley
Sir, - As a beekeeping environmental health officer, I would
like to comment on the discussion about "blessing" children with
(Letters, 3 and
There is real cause for concern: it is
well established that the spores of Clostridium Botulinum
can occur naturally in honey, and survive despite honey's
antibiotic properties. C. Botulinum is the bacteria that
produces Botoxin ("Botox") - a potent neurotoxin.
To adults, consuming honey poses no
risk. Dr Bradley is correct: honey does not contain toxin.
Nevertheless, children under the age of 12 months have not
developed intestinal microflora (the "friendly bacteria" of the
yogurt advert), and if they ingest C. Botulinum, then the
bacteria can propagate in their guts, and produce botoxin, leading
to "floppy baby syndrome" (infant botulism).
The illness is fortunately rare in the
UK: www.nhs.uk indicated 13 reported cases since 1978. There were,
however, three reported incidents in the UK in 2009/10. Incidence
in other countries seems to be higher: the University of Florida
says that there are fewer than 100 cases per annum in the US. The
same source indicates that ten per cent of honey samples have been
found to contain C. Botulinum spores.
It seems that some parents are in the
practice of dipping their baby's dummies (soothers, pacifiers) in
honey before giving them to the child, which seems harmless; but
there is concern that even this small quantity of honey could be
enough to cause infection.
In the UK, there is a voluntary
agreement with the Honey Packers Association that honey labels
include a statement "Honey should not be given to infants under 12
months." Sam Montel, of the Food Standards Agency, said: ". . . it
might be tempting to give honey . . . [but] infant botulism is a
very serious illness and it simply isn't worth the risk" (www.food.gov.uk).
There is a danger that the blessing
could lead to a real curse, one that is unnecessary and easily
36 Ferrymead Gardens, Greenford, Middlesex UB6 9NF