'Name and shame' honey cheats
South Canterbury players in the honey industry want "cowboys" who sell phoney manuka honey to be named and shamed.
Twizel beekeeper Peter Bell and Timaru's Steve Lyttle both fear their reputations are being tarnished by those claiming to sell genuine manuka honey.
Mr Bell said it was potentially serious for the country's consumer reputation.
"There are clearly a small number of cowboys who are ruining it for everyone else," he said. "If we don't do something about it, our reputation will be damaged."
Britain's Food Standards Agency has issued a nationwide alert to all trading-standards departments, asking them to watch out for honey labelled as manuka but derived from other sources. It follows tests, including one revealing that, of 23 randomly selected manuka-labelled honeys, 11 did not show "non-peroxide" anti-microbial activity unique to genuine manuka honey.
"The Ministry for Primary Industries [MPI] generally accepts about 70 per cent or higher as the standard for classification, but I've heard of some groups selling stuff that was lower than 50 per cent blended and then trying to pass it off as the genuine article," Mr Bell said.
"We need to have clearer rules. Phoney providers need to be named and shamed, with their product taken off the shelves."
At the high end, manuka honey has been touted for its potentially therapeutic qualities. Director of 100% Pure New Zealand Honey, Steve Lyttle, who is based in Timaru, knew of "cowboy" providers who sold falsely labelled versions at nearly the same price as the genuine article.
"We go through all this testing to sell our product at the high end of $50 per kilogram, then these guys come in and sell it at $40. If they were honest, they would sell it for scarcely a 10th of that," Mr Lyttle said.
"Demand is well outstripping supply, and there is the capacity to produce only an extra 2 or 3 per cent of the real stuff. You don't know the difference unless you actually test it."
MPI adviser Jim Sim was aware of the concern.
"In the longer term, the MPI is working with industry and scientists to arrive at an improved definition of manuka honey that is backed up with robust science so that both industry and consumers can be certain about any claims made," he said.
Mr Sim said it could take one to two years to deliver an outcome.
The manuka honey industry generates more than $120 million in annual revenue for the country.
- © Fairfax NZ News