Manuka honey definition will give market confidence, says MPI adviser
A definition of manuka honey that will soon be in play will give confidence to global consumers and regulators alike, says a Ministry for Primary Industries official.
International markets were concerned about the composition of manuka honey, Ministry for Primary Industries principal adviser Jim Sim told about 350 people at a conference hosted in Hawera by Venture Taranaki to explore the potential of New Zealand's manuka honey industry.
Sim said more "manuka" honey was being sold internationally than New Zealand was exporting, so regulators and consumers alike were asking: "Is this really manuka honey they are selling us?"
Key issues around the international trade of manuka honey were its authenticity, adulteration and contamination.
There was increasing international scrutiny on manuka honey and surveys in Hong Kong and the UK had found some products wanting.
Amid concerns checking of manuka honey was insufficient, New Zealand's trading partners wanted to know who was checking, what they were checking for and how often.
Sim said discussion about what defined manuka honey was ongoing. Manuka labelling systems were confusing to both consumers and regulators, and some products would be better described as blends.
Exporters were bound to ensure their products met importing countries' legal requirements because they might regulate honey differently to New Zealand.
Ahead of a regulatory definition of manuka honey, exporters should do their best to ensure the product they sold was wholly or mainly manuka honey. "The definition needs to be fit for industry and to provide confidence to the consumer."
A three-year MPI science programme that would end this year was working to distinguish manuka honey from other honey types. Three hundred samples of manuka, non-manuka and honeydew honey from single apiary sources across the country from the 2015/16 season were needed for the programme.
Sim said manuka growing in plantations was the best way to produce a monofloral manuka honey crop, as long as bees had little access to competing floral sources when the manuka was flowering and as long as the honey was collected before flowering had finished. "Sometimes (manuka) honey is taken off a little bit late, so then it has other stuff in it," he said.
Ideally, manuka plantations should be part of a broader ecosystem with natural forage for bees when manuka was not flowering. Hive numbers should be managed to minimise competition.
Beehive numbers in the North Island had increased 63.6 per cent from not quite 260,000 in 2011 to just over 420,000 in 2015, he said.