26 Aug 2013

Govt wants quick honey label action

8:32 pm on 26 August 2013

The Food Safety Minister says the Government and the manuka honey industry need to move quickly to set a guideline for labelling.

Britain's Food Standards Agency has issued a nationwide warning about misleading claims made on jars of some honey products.

Honey exporters say more manuka honey is being sold around the world than New Zealand produces.

The Government says what's needed is an international standard for manuka honey.

Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye says while that standard is developed, a label guideline is needed.

She told Morning Report she understands a meeting is being held this week between honey industry representatives and officials and the work needs to happen quickly.

The Ministry for Primary Industries hopes to release the resulting guideline label standard over the next month.

Industry calls

The Bee Products Standards Council, which is made up of industry representatives, says different producers are claiming different properties in their products and the industry is in urgent need of a single set of standards to test honey content.

Chair Jim Edwards says there is no consistency in current testing and more regulation would lead to better enforcement of standards.

"We've been able to establish standards which are widely accepted within the industry except for manuka and so what needs to happen now is that the industry needs to agree on the parameters that should be used for manuka honey across the whole industry."

100% Pure New Zealand Honey Ltd managing director Steve Lyttle says he regularly travels to the United Kingdom, China, Japan and other parts of Asia to reassure customers his product is genuine.

He says he has seen a large amount of product on shelves that is clearly not true to its label.

"I can tell that simply by the price. The price they're retailing up here is less than the bulk price in New Zealand so they just can't be genuine," he says.

The honey industry currently earns New Zealand $120 million a year in exports.

Airborne Honey's managing director Peter Bray says New Zealand should adopt the international Codex Alimentarius standard, which is based on the best available science and used by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Mr Bray says that would allow New Zealand to defend itself from accusations its testing is inconsistent.