Friday, April 29, 2011

Canola Honey Allergy?

I love honey. I depend on honey because I cannot seem to tolerate any other sweeteners. Honey is amazing because unlike other sugars it is already in the simple, usable state that our body needs in order for it be transported from our intestine into the bloodstream. For people who suffer from digestive issues and/or allergies, sticking to foods that are monosaccharides (single sugars) can really help make life easier. Lately though, the honey I've been consuming seems to be bothering me, which has led me to search for answers.

Many farmers 'rent' bee hives to help with crop pollination and in return, beekeepers get a source of nectar and pollen for their honey and other bee products. A very common and desirable crop for beekeepers is canola because it makes lovely honey. In southern Alberta alone, more than 50,000 hives are used to pollinate hybrid canola seed crops (1). Canada is ranked number one in the world for canola pollination (2), meaning a lot of our honey comes from canola flowers.

Photo by Graur Razvan Ionut
The problem is that conventionally grown canola is sprayed with herbicides and/or pesticides and the crop itself is likely genetically modified (GM). The pollen collected from GM canola would contain the new protein that makes it herbicide resistant, as well as pesticide and herbicide residue. Since pollen does end up in the honey we consume, there is reason to be concerned. It has been suggested that these new proteins are causing digestive distress, food allergies and even the onset of auto-immune disorders (2).
"Pollen is known to cause hay fever, asthma and allergies due to specific proteins expressed in the pollen. When new proteins are introduced into plants through genetic engineering, it is essential to test whether these proteins occur in pollen and to assess their allergenicity when inhaled as pollen. For example, a protein which is found in soil bacteria may not cause an allergic response on hands but may cause an allergic response when inhaled.  In addition, honey will become contaminated with GM pollen and the allergenicity of oral GM pollen should also have been assessed. Based on the tiny amount of protein required to elicit an allergic response from oil, the amount of GM proteins in pollen in honey may also cause an allergic reaction. " (3)
This quote left me thinking about more than just honey. If pollen can cause allergies, asthma and such when inhaled, what are the dangers with inhaling GM pollen? To be honest, I'd never given that scenario a thought. Perhaps this provides one explanation for why environmental allergies are also on the rise. Considering that nasal immunization with DNA tends to be effective in animals, we should probably be more concerned about the unknown consequences of GM pollen in our air than we are (4).

A UK study found that canola pollen can drift up to 26 km. In Canada, the legal buffer for GM canola is only 200 meters (5). Last year we had canola sprouting in both our front and back yard and we live in town, so I know from first hand experience that canola pollen can travel quite a distance. That means that even organically grown canola and wildflower fields - which would bring us wildflower honey - is at risk of being contaminated with GM canola

I emailed the Canadian Honey Council to ask them how one could avoid honey made from canola, and the response was to look for any honey labeled as 100% Pure Canadian Honey (made from Canola) - it can be either clear and creamed. The honey should be labeled as coming from canola, but I have also read that canola honey is often blended with other honey types. Since I have lost much faith in the reliability of labeling, I don't know if I would count on the Honey Council's assurances.

It's more than just a little bit scary how far reaching the effects of genetically modified technology has become in our food, even in the air we breathe.

(2) Canadian Honey Council email correspondence
(5) Genetically Modified Food: A Guide for the Confused, by Andy Rees, pg 157

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