31 Mar 2014

Fake products risk NZ honey exports

2:50 pm on 31 March 2014

A Waikato University scientist says there is a risk that fraudulent products will wreck the international reputation of New Zealand honey exports.

Associate Professor Merilyn Manley-Harris says it is extremely urgent that New Zealand sets up standardised labelling of honey, especially the lucrative manuka variety.

New Zealand produced more than 16,000 tonnes of honey in 2012 and 2013 and in 2012 honey exports were worth $120 million with manuka honey making up about 90 per centof that.

The Ministry of Primary Industries has formed two working groups to come up with a robust labelling guideline for manuka honey - one made up of scientists and one from the industry.

Associate Professor Merilyn Manley-Harris of Waikato's School of Science and Engineering is a member of the six-scientist working group.

She explains that one of the problems the scientists are trying to solve is the close similarity of manuka and kanuka honey - overseas scientists can't tell the difference, even though only the manuka honey has the methylglyoxal compound seen as a key factor in the special anti-microbial powers of some manuka honey.

And Professor Manley-Harris says a second issue for her group to sort out is the chemical change manuka honey sometimes undergoes that mimics sugar being added to it.

These changes can happen simply while it is being stored, but they lead to the honey showing a positive result when screening tests check out whether the honey has been adulerated with other sugars.

Professor Manley-Harris imagines there could eventually be a system by which consumers can easily track the provenance of each jar of honey.

The working groups have until the end of June to come up with a guideline that will set out

what constitutes manuka honey, and identify what statements and claims are appropriate for mānuka honey labels, providing greater clarity for consumers and the industry.