25 Sep 2013

Manuka honey a sticky problem for ministry

6:37 am on 25 September 2013

The Ministry for Primary Industries is tackling the sticky issue of defining manuka honey.

The ministry is working on a new guideline for New Zealand's most valuable honey, after concerns were raised in some overseas markets about false claims and labelling for manuka.

Despite years of trying, the honey industry has never been able to agree on a single, legally enforceable definition for manuka.

The Government decided to step in to fill the gap with a voluntary guideline, while it looks at whether regulatory backing is necessary.

The ministry has released a discussion paper on defining the unique qualities of manuka.

It says honey science is evolving and new research is under way, but in the meantime it is looking at three options based on current knowledge.

One is a definition using the level of manuka pollen in the honey. However, the problem with that approach is it is hard to tell the difference between pollen from manuka and the closely related kanuka plant.

Another option is measuring the methylglyoxal, or MG, level in the honey. However, that is not entirely reliable because results can vary, depending on the age of the honey.

The ministry is also proposing a third option - a combination of the pollen count and MG content. If that was used, the honey would have to meet the specified MG level throughout its shelf life.

The ministry is seeking feed-back on the options and will then produce draft guidelines for further consideration.