3 minute read

Fungicide residues bankrupt beekeepers

Nguyen Quang Tan, Bee Research Unit, University of Agriculture and Forestry, Thu Duc District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

My 2011 article in BfDJ ‘The profitability of Apis mellifera in Vietnam’ looked at the risks of beekeeping (Tan 2011). One of these risks was the many and unforeseen changes in the international honey market regarding policy and quality. Thousands of Vietnamese beekeepers are now facing bankruptcy because of the presence in their honey of residues of the fungicide carbendazim.

Carbendazim is a cheap fungicide which is applied to fruits and crops. It is commonly and legally used around the world in countries including Canada and many European countries.

As for any agricultural chemical, there is a maximum residue limit (MRL) for carbendazim in foods and beverages. In Europe, the MRL is set at 200 parts per billion (ppb) for most agricultural products (EU Commission Regulation 2011). The USA does not allow the use of carbendazim in agriculture but will allow the use of thiophanate methyl, a fungicide which naturally degrades to carbendazim in plants and the environment (EPA 2005). US bee scientists have found residues of 27 and 149 ppb respectively in honey and pollen (Johnson et al 2010).

A survey by the Food and Drug Administration found that 9 out of 14 samples of domestically manufactured orange juice contained levels of carbendazim of 13-36 ppb (Astley 2012a). The orange juice is not recalled because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that residues lower than 80 ppb do not pose a health risk (Astley 2012a, 2012b; FDA 2012).

Recently, 24 shipments from Brazil and Canada of orange juice testing positive (10 ppb or more) for carbendazim have been detained or refused entry to the USA (FDA 2012), despite this being in violation of international trade agreements (Astley 2012b).

In late 2011 some shipments of honey from Vietnam to the USA were returned. This was the first time that Vietnamese beekeepers and honey exporters were informed of a new criterion for honey quality with carbendazim levels less than 10 ppb. The change to the quality requirement is too sudden for beekeepers to adapt. This season in Vietnam thousands of tonnes of honey were harvested from cashew, coffee, and rubber - carbendazim is used to control fungi on some of these plants, thus the honey is unintentionally contaminated with the fungicide at levels of 10-100 ppb. Beekeepers cannot sell their honey and cannot repay loans. The Vietnamese New Year passed sadly for the beekeepers’ families because they did not have money to celebrate the most important event of the year.

The health of consumers must always take priority. According to the EPA, the residue level of 80 ppb in orange juice is not a risk. What residue can be accepted for the honey imported to the USA? The MRL of 10 ppb may be too strict and should be set at 80 ppb or above, so that it can save the livelihoods of beekeepers in developing countries as well as meeting the demand for honey by consumers in the USA.

Honey harvested from coffee could be found to be unintentionally contaminated if carbendazim is used to control fungi on the plants
PHOTO © Bees for Development


ASTLEY,M. (2012a). Brazil trade body questions carbendazim double standards after US OJ breaches import limit. http://www. foodqualitynews.com/Legislation/Brazil-trade-body-questionscarbendazim-double-standards-after-US-OJ-breaches-import-limit*

ASTLEY,M. (2012b). US OJ carbendazim measures may violate international trade pacts – import law firm.


EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) (2005) Reregistration Eligibility Decision – Thiophanate-methyl. http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/REDs/tm_red.pdf*

EU COMMISSION REGULATION (2011). Regulations No 559/2011 http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011: 152:0001:0021:EN:PDF

FDA (2012). Orange Juice Products and Carbendazim: Addendum to FDA Letter to the Juice Products Association (9 January 2012) http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/ FruitsVegetablesJuices/ucm287783.htm*

JOHNSON, R.M.; ELLIS,M,D.; MULLIN,C,A.; FRAZIER,M. (2010). Pesticides and honey bee toxicity – USA. Apidologie] 2010. http://entomology.unl.edu/faculty/ellispubs/Pesticides.pdf*

TAN,N.Q (2011). Profitability of Apis mellifera in Vietnam. Bees for Development Journal 99: 8-9.

*sites accessed 21 February 2012