Mr. Cliff Van Eaton in New Zealand has brought to my attention a recent publication, “Report on the Findings of the Bee Product Warning Scientific Review Working Group,” August 1999, by Solas Consulting Group.
The Working Group, which included, physicians, governmental officials and others looked at three bee products with reference to risk from allergic reactions. The conclusions, summarized here for both propolis and pollen are: “Risk management should be limited to ingredient labeling of all products containing bee pollen and propolis by whatever means. This may be through voluntary labeling and a self-regulated industry code of practice, or through mandatory labeling.” Risk of allergic reactions from either of these products is considered minimal at present.
Royal Jelly merited the same treatment, but the Working Group also “estimated that the risk of adverse health effects in the general population from ingestion of royal jelly was higher than that for other bee products, and also identified that asthmatics represent a population group with higher susceptibility to adverse health effects than the general population.” The Working Group, therefore, recommends the following statement be present on all food products/dietary supplements containing royal jelly: Royal jelly may cause serious allergic reactions. Most reports have been in asthma sufferers.”
According to the report, “A Hong Kong study on asthmatics reports positive skin prick tests for 16.8% of a Hong Kong asthmatic population tested for allergy to royal jelly (this paper estimated that 30% of the Hong Kong population used royal jelly). This followed an earlier population survey in Hong Kong showing 7% of asthmatics had a positive skin prick test to royal jelly. 0.6% of respondents in the second study reported an adverse reaction to royal jelly. In total there have been 37 reports of serious adverse reactions (anaphylaxis/ bronchospasm/asthma) to royal jelly. Due to duplication in scientific literature and different reporting methods in different countries, these figures are considered to be indicative only.”
The report continues: “In categorising adverse health effects as ‘serious’ or otherwise for the purposes of risk assessment policy, the Working Group did not place a different status on death as an outcome compared with other manifestations of ‘serious’ adverse health effects. However, The Working Group recognised that risk perception is an important issue in stakeholder evaluation (and participation) in risk management decisions. In particular, the public is likely to view death as a more important risk event than other ‘serious’ adverse health effects, even though all ‘serious’ adverse health effects may result in death in different circumstances. For this reason, The Working Group placed considerable emphasis on evaluating the three reported cases (in Australia) of death linked to oral ingestion of royal jelly.”
The Working Group was unable to assess the claimed association with the ingestion of the royal jelly and the reported death of a 31-year-old surfer. It quoted Dr Alain Rohan (Head of the ADRS), “It would not be fair or scientifically defensible, to pin this death on the product.” This report, therefore, excluded this event from its risk characterization.
Inadequate information was available to support the finding of the coroner on the claimed association between ingestion of royal jelly and the death of an 11-year-old girl. In particular, this was because of the retrospective and anecdotal evidence of exposure and the lack of supporting analytical data. The Working Group, therefore, excluded this report from risk characterization. However, evidence concerning the death of a 23-year-old woman was enough to conclude that there is a strong association between the ingestion of royal jelly and the development of an acute asthmatic episode with a fatal outcome.
The report states that bee products are considered as therapeutic goods in Australia, but not in New Zealand where they are recognized as dietary supplements. It states: “There was insufficient comparative information available to compare royal jelly to other dietary supplements when assessing the ‘proportionality’ of different management options. The Working Group did note that for food there have been 141 admissions to New Zealand hospitals for anaphylactic shock, but believes that consumers have a greater expectation for safety of ingested goods presented in packaged form. This is considered to be particularly true for dietary supplements.
Finally, The Working Group was not in a position to evaluate claimed benefits of royal jelly, and these were not included in benefit parameters in the risk management framework. Ingredient labeling was considered to be a systematic, low-cost risk management activity appropriate to the circumstances.
This report has morphed into a present document: