New tests confirm New Zealand manuka honey is for real
Two new tests confirming whether New Zealand manuka honey is the real deal have been released by an independent testing laboratory.
The tests by Hills Laboratories will give consumers greater certainty they are buying genuine manuka honey after claims that unscrupulous operators are making millions of dollars from sales of fake manuka honey at vastly inflated prices.
In April the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) released a scientific definition to authenticate New Zealand manuka honey which was the first step leading to a standard.
From 2014 to last year, MPI ran a manuka honey science programme to develop criteria for identifying manuka honey from New Zealand.
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The new Manuka5 tests measure five different attributes of a manuka honey sample, said Hill Laboratories' general manager of technology Jonno Hill.
"The new definition is based on the concentration of four chemical markers and a DNA marker. We first test for the manuka DNA using one method, then analyse for the four chemical parameters via a second method," Hill said.
The type of testing was unique to New Zealand and provided a scientific definition for manuka honey, he said.
"If the chemical and DNA markers are all above threshold levels, then the honey is deemed to be manuka honey. In addition, the concentration of one of the chemical parameters, in particular, defines the honey as either multi-floral manuka or mono-floral manuka."
A MPI spokesperson said test costings would be determined by the commercial laboratories offering the tests.
A lead in time would be provided before new export requirements came into force to ensure the laboratories were ready to test honey. Several commercial laboratories were establishing and validating test methods to detect the five attributes in honey to ensure accurate test results were produced. Four laboratories are so far accredited with carrying out DNA testing.
MPI said the laboratories had a responsibility to provide the test results but interpreting them was part of the legal responsibility of processors They processors needed to ensure that their products complied and they did not produce false or misleading representation.
MPI deputy director-general Bryan Wilson said New Zealand manuka honey authentication was essential to maintain and grow export markets.
"It is important that overseas regulators have confidence in the assurances we give them about New Zealand manuka honey, and that consumers in those countries are confident they are getting the real deal. If not, our access to markets could be put a risk or we may lose the premium price which our bee products command overseas," Wilson said
"If the criteria for authentication becomes an absolute export condition in July, then our full MPI accreditation means that all of the results generated by our laboratory before then will be valid retrospectively and can be used for export purposes," Hill said.
Apiculture New Zealand chief executive officer Karin Kos said the organisation "absolutely supported" MPI's move to protect the integrity of the manuka honey industry and it was "a milestone for the industry."
"The proposal is in the consultation process at the moment. There have been some questions around the science and export requirements, but it's early days and we are waiting for our beekeepers to provide feedback."
UMF Honey Association chief executive John Rawcliffe said it was "very positive" that a standard was being developed at an official level.
The honey industry earns $242 million in exports a year, of which manuka makes up about 80 per cent. A target has been set of $1.2 billion export revenue for manuka honey alone by 2028.
MPI said regulations were still in the consultation process.