An Auckland honey company that added substance to its mānuka honey to boost its value has been ordered to pay more than $370,000.
It is the first prosecution of its kind over mānuka honey, which naturally has antibacterial benefits.
In April, Evergreen Life Limited and a company manager Jason Lee pleaded guilty to seven representative charges of selling adulterated honey with intent to deceive for material gain and of selling non-compliant honey.
The charges were brought by the Ministry for Primary Industries, under the Animal Products Act.
MPI has a strict definition for what constitutes mānuka honey, including that nothing is added or removed to the final product.
At the Auckland District Court, Judge Eddie Paul said the offending was motivated by greed.
Judge Paul ordered the company to pay $260,000 and Lee $112,000.
First case of honey adulteration detected in NZ, says MPI
Mānuka honey is lauded for its health benefits, due partly to an omega acid called dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and an antacid MGO.
DHA is present in the nectar of mānuka flowers, which over time turns into MGO when combined with other proteins in the honey. Mānuka honey is rated by the amount of MGO in it - the higher the level, the more valuable the honey is. So a high DHA reading - which Evergreen Life artificially boosted - is valuable, because it indicates a high level of MGO.
The Ministry for Primary Industries launched its investigation into the company in 2016 after it recieved an anonymous tip off that chemicals were being added to the company's low grade mānuka and non-mānuka honey.
MPI industries director Gary Orr said this case was the first of honey adulteration ever to be detected in New Zealand.
"The adulterated honey obviously commanded a greater price in the marketplace. The company benefited to the tune of approximately $700,000 because of its deliberate and calculated fraud."
Approximately 33 tonnes of non-compliant honey was destroyed and 60 tonnes is still being held by MPI and is likely to be destroyed.
"It's important to note that there were no food safety risks to consumers in New Zealand or overseas."
New Zealand honey and bee exports are worth $340m and are growing.
All mānuka honey must be tested by an MPI-recognised laboratory to make sure it meets the agency's definition, and a grading system, called the Unique Manuka Factor, is applied by an industry association.