CHRISTCHURCH - Beekeepers are concerned that the commercial growing of genetically engineered crops could harm the $50 million honey industry.

The spread of commercial crops of modified oilseed rape for canola oil had meant that Canadian honey contaminated with GE pollen had been left unsold, said the president of the National Beekeepers' Association, Terry Gavin.

He was concerned about the situation and the implications for New Zealand's export sales.

Mr Gavin said Europe and Japan were the major importers of New Zealand honey and many consumers in those countries opposed GE substances in food.

New Zealand honey commanded a better price because of its high quality, but he said overseas experience showed that demand and prices dropped for honey contaminated by GE crops.

"While we are not totally against those crops, we need the assurance that there are safeguards for the industry to prevent contamination," Mr Gavin said.

At least five crops of genetically engineered canola have been grown in New Zealand as field trials. And US company Monsanto has plans to grow modified canola seeds over several hundred hectares between North Canterbury and Southland.

Hortresearch entomologist Dr Louise Malone said the main difficulty for beekeepers was that small traces of pollen from the crops could end up in honey, and this could then become an issue if food labelling was required.

She said it would be difficult to guarantee honey was GE free in areas where Monsanto's modified plants were grown on a wide scale.

This was the case in Canada, where genetically modified canola was widely grown. - NZPA