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Test Checks Bee Venom ‘Sting’

A Nelson apiary has turned to science in a world first to ensure that its native manuka honey “stung” with bee venom is safe.

“As well as establishing that it is safe, the testing has given us credibility, both in New Zealand and overseas,” Nelson Apriaries Ltd managing director Philip Cropp says. Four years ago Mr Cropp discovered how to blend pure, extracted bee venom with honey. The venom has anti-inflammatory properties for ailments such as arthritis.

The blend was the basis of Nectar-Ease, a dietary supplement absorbed through the stomach lining. Mr Cropp says that because dietary supplements came under the Foods Act it was important the honey be analysed to test that the level of venom was consistent.

“We believed it was safe and effective, and the extraction-blending process was consistent. But an actual measurement of bee venom concentration was not known.”

To find out, Nelson Apiaries contracted UniServices, the University of Auckland’s commercial research arm, to develop and refine testing methods and conduct acute and chronic toxicology studies to ensure consistent concentrations of venom.

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology supported the work of UniServices pharmacologist Jeff Keelan under the Technical Assessments scheme through Technology New Zealand. The Foundation invests in research into new products, processes or services.

“We had a lot of trouble finding the right people and tests,” says Robert Crooks, project manager for Nelson Apiaries. “Many regarded bee venom therapy as a throw-back to medieval times – not many people took it seriously.

“The assistance from Technology NZ was important because it led us to the right methods of testing and helped us to gain valuable information about our products. It’s provided us with a yardstick for future processes.”

Mr Cropp says research has shown that no such studies have been previously done on bee venom and honey anywhere in the world. “This is a world first.”

Nectar-Ease, which is swallowed, and Nectar Balm, which is absorbed through the skin, are believed to trigger healing hormones called cortisols that break down the crystals that cause arthritis, he says. Nectar-Ease is part of a growing New Zealand bee venom industry worth more than $3 million a year.

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