Spread of Jacobaea vulgaris and Occurrence of Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids in Regionally Produced Honeys from Northern Germany: Inter- and Intra-Site Variations and Risk Assessment for Special Consumer Groups

Toxins (Basel). 2020 Jul 7;12(7):441. doi: 10.3390/toxins12070441.


Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) and PA N-oxides (PANO) are secondary plant metabolites exhibiting genotoxic and carcinogenic properties. Apart from the roots and leaves, PA/PANO are particularly present in pollen and nectar. Therefore, the spread of Jacobaea vulgaris in certain regions of northern Germany has an impact on the safety of honey produced in that region. In this study, raw honey samples (n = 437) were collected from usually three individual beehives per site (n = 73) in the district of Ostholstein and analyzed for 25 PA/PANO. The results reveal mean levels of 8.4, 1.5, and 72.6 µg/kg and maximum levels of 111, 59.4, and 3313 µg/kg, depending on the season (summer 2015 and spring/summer 2016, respectively). As far as individual data are concerned, sites near areas with J. vulgaris growth did not necessarily result in high PA/PANO values. Furthermore, intra-site investigations revealed remarkable differences in PA/PANO levels of raw honey collected by different bee colonies at the same site. Consumption of these regionally produced honeys entails an increased exposure to PA/PANO, especially in children and high consumers. Margin of exposure values of <10,000 and an exceedance of the health-based guidance value highlight that regionally produced and marketed honey must be considered with care for a proper risk assessment and risk management.

Keywords: Jacobaea vulgaris; LC–MS/MS; Senecio; food safety; honey; pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asteraceae / adverse effects
  • Asteraceae / metabolism*
  • Bees*
  • Consumer Product Safety
  • Germany
  • Honey / analysis*
  • Oxides / analysis*
  • Pollen / adverse effects
  • Pollen / metabolism*
  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids / adverse effects
  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids / analysis*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Seasons
  • Secondary Metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Oxides
  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids