Editorial: A sticky mess and no mistake

Last updated 05:00 27/08/2013

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OPINION: In the Concise Oxford Dictionary you'll find "honey" smack-dab next to "honesty".

Out there in the real world, there's more of a gulf.

New Zealand's milk-and-honey reputation is now less than heavenly on both counts.

After Fonterra's miseries, further reputational damage control work must be done following the discovery that more than just a few jars labelled manuka honey are nothing of the sort.

Given the massive premium that the legitimate product attracts for its antiseptic and antifungal medical properties, this smacks of major consumer fraud, apparently perpetrated from inside and outside this country.

Britain's Food Standards Agency has legitimately warned consumers abut misleading claims, after testing for "non-peroxide" anti-microbial activity that distinguishes real manuka and finding that many of the sampled products differed from ordinary honey by nothing more than price.

Chinese and Singaporean laboratories have also identified fakery.

Some of the mislabelled product was foreign, but not all of it.

There are two issues here.

Grasping villainy would be one. Clearly that's been going on.

But the problem is not just the syrupy, bogus wannabes, nor even just that some of the claimed benefits owe more to loopy marketing than the demonstrated attributes of manuka honey.

It's that there is no common international definition for what truly is manuka honey.

Not only does this give the spurious variants shadows in which to hide, it also means that those producers who really are making the true product have no at-a-glance way to proclaim their legitimacy.

Given that New Zealand produces the huge majority of manuka honey, we are scarcely in a position to look elsewhere with any reproach that the situation has developed.

That's why Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye is right to distinguish between the pretty much immediate need for a label standard and the urgent need for a single set of standards to test the honey's content.

Though it's scarcely an excuse, the real McCoy is clearly not that easy to test.

Just last month GNS Science reported that importers' claims of manuka honey being adulterated by cane sugar was the result of misinterpretation.

The very bioactivity wherein part of the honey's charms lie also tends to invite false positives for an internationally accepted test. Our scientists propose that it is carbon isotope value, not cane sugar level, that should be used as the main indicator of purity.

Nobody is pretending, however, that this latest unhappy turn of events is the result of mere misunderstanding.

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We produce 1700 tons of manuka honey each year, but somehow more than that is apparently sold in Britain alone, and a reported 10,000 tons worldwide. So a lot of consumers are being ripped off.

- The Southland Times

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