Fake manuka honey threatens industry

ROB STOCK
Last updated 05:00 22/04/2012
Honey
FAKE THREAT: So-called 'active' manuka honey attracts a high price tag in the booming 'nutraceutical' market.

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New Zealand's unique manuka honey industry is under threat with trees now being planted in the UK, Australia and North America and some markets saturated with fake product.

And the reason is the high pricetag attached to a kilo of "active" manuka honey in the booming "nutraceutical" market.

In Chile, there are honey producers who are now marketing their honeys internationally as "active" as though they possess the health and healing properties of manuka honey, which is also now being used to manufacture enhanced wound dressings.

However, it is fake product, not the planting of manuka trees, that worries John Rawcliffe of the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA). Fake "active" manuka honey is being sold in large quantities overseas.

It's a controversial topic that echoes the "honey wars" of a couple of years' ago which saw New Zealand manuka honey producers locked in disputes about the science of active manuka and the rights to use certain quality marks which were supposed to give the consumer confidence.

They are dark days Rawcliffe does not want to return to, but the UMFHA members, which produce around 70 per cent of manuka honey, are in a buoyant mood following the completion of a testing and certification regime to demonstrate to retailers and consumers that whatever is in the other jars, they can rely on honey bearing the UMFHA logo.

The initiative is aimed at securing the lucrative UK and Singaporean markets, with testing labs on the ground there certifying that honey with the "UMF" label is what it says it is, says Rawcliffe. Plans to secure the reputation of manuka honey in China and Japan are in the pipeline.

For the very first time in 2012, the UMFHA feels it can guarantee with 100 per cent certainty that the honey bearing its "UMF 5+", "UMF 10+", "UMF 15+" or "UMF 20+" label is exactly what the label says it is.

The tests involve sophisticated devices profiling honeys to see if they have the "active" profile that has been found to be specific to active manuka honey.

That profile looks something like a graph from a heartrate monitor, only for non-active honeys, the heartbeat is muted. The challenge now is to spread the word about the science behind the tests.

The UMFHA is not planning on trying to be the global policeman, Rawcliffe says. It lacks the power and resources to stop the multimillion-dollar honey labelling fraud affecting many different types of honey. But it does believe it will be able to stop the manuka market collapsing.

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Rawcliffe says on a recent visit to Singapore samples were gathered and tested of 33 "manuka" honeys on sales close to the central railway station.

Fifteen of the 33 were not "true to label". Some possessed none of the activity claimed. Some possessed less than the label stated.

It's not just a few jars either. It seems certain that hundreds of thousands of jars of dubious "active" manuka honey are sold internationally.

UMFHA members could do with a little support from the government, Rawcliffe said. While it is too much to expect a government to endorse the UMFHA's quality mark, it isn't too much to expect government agencies should enforce labelling laws and regulations.

Honey that is supposed to come from New Zealand is on sale in Singapore today with either no addresses for the New Zealand supplier or a fake address.

And that is drawing disrepute on the real product - it's not hard to find people touting manuka honey as a treatment for things like irritable bowel syndrome and even cancer.

- Sunday Star Times

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