The UK Food Standards Agency said it has received further results of tests on Chinese and blended honey on sale in the UK, and has issued a recall of the products affected.
The agency began its tests as a result of concerns about a lack of control on the use of veterinary drugs in China, and the latest tests have revealed traces of the antibiotic chloramphenicol. Ten out of 16 samples tested positive for illegal residues of chloramphenicol.
The agency has called for scientific advice on whether the residues posed a risk to consumers. The main known risk from chloramphenicol relates to aplastic anaemia, a rare but serious blood disorder that affects 50 to 100 people a year in the UK. It may also be linked to cancer. However, the experts concluded that the levels of this antibiotic in honey pose an extremely small risk to public health.
Nevertheless, it is illegal and undesirable for honey to contain chloramphenicol, the agency said, and issued a recall of Chinese and blended honey on sale in the UK.
The companies involved have been informed of the test results, and the agency has said all jars of Chinese and blended honey (unless shown not to be of Chinese origin) must be withdrawn, since it is not possible to be confident that only the specific batches and lines tested are affected.
Local authorities are being advised of the results of the tests and the agency's advice, and are being asked to check the withdrawal of these products.
The FSA told consumers that it is safe to eat any honey they have already bought, given the extremely small risk. This advice also applies to other foods that contain honey, where the risk is even lower, it added.
The European Union suspended imports of products of animal origin from China on 30 January because of growing concerns about the use of antibiotics in animal products. Earlier tests by the FSA discovered traces of streptomycin in Chinese honey on sale in the UK, and these products have already been withdrawn from the market.