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NZ Government on track to announce Manuka honey standard

Posted by Bill Gluyas from an article in Stuff by Julie Isles on

It is hoped that a new standard agreed between producers of high quality Manuka honey currently identified as UMF and the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Primary Industries will put an end to the huge amount of fraudulent activity surrounding the deliberate mid-labeling of blended honey as Manuka honey.

Thousands of tonnes of honey of all floral sources are believed to have been labeled as Manuka honey by unscrupulous traders cashing in on the proven antimicrobial properties of genuine Manuka honey from New Zealand.

Industry and Government still hope to come to an agreement on what the standards for manuka honey are by Christmas 2017

Despite a change in government, manuka honey producers may still see testing standards debuted before Christmas.

The new Minister of Agriculture is aiming to meet his predecessor's deadline in creating a government standard for the manuka honey industry which is awash with fraudsters.

The honey industry currently earns $242 million in exports a year, of which manuka makes up about 80 per cent.

Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor says work is underway to get the standards completed "as quickly as possible".

A target has been set of $1.2 billion export revenue for manuka honey alone by 2028.

UMF association spokesman John Rawcliffe says a test for three or four chemical signatures is the best option.

"We are still aiming for [before Christmas] but working to ensure that there's widespread support from across the industry."

O'Connor said meetings with industry have identified flaws in the previous government's draft and he had to ensure changes could be made before he announced the finalised testing standard.

Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) honey association general manager John Rawcliffe said there was enough science between the ministry and the industry to put the standards through.

Rawcliffe said he viewed a new minister as a new chance at the process, but he has not met or spoken with O'Connor yet.

UMF spent just under $1m to test for markers of manuka found in the nectar of the pollen and patenting those markers overseas.

Former Minister of Agriculture David Bennett said the draft for the test when he left office included a DNA test and a test for four identifying chemical components that were under consultation with the industry.

Manuka honey producer Bill Savage says a good standard would weed out the 70 per cent of the manuka market that is made up of fraudsters.

Bennett said: "At some point somebody has to make a decision over what those markers will be and come to a formal conclusion."

"I believe a selection of three or four unique or characteristic signature markers of manuka is the best option," Rawcliffe agreed.

East Cape manuka honey maker Bill Savage said the potential of the industry was huge, "if we can get the testing through – we desperately need it."

Savage said it was widely accepted in the industry that between two-thirds and 70 per cent of the market place for manuka honey was fraudulent.

The matter came to a head with the industry and Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) when a testing method was first floated in April this year.

Savage said the initial test MPI floated "was just a mess" and the inclusion of DNA testing and pollen testing was part of the issue.

The pollens of kanuka trees were indistinguishable from its close relative, manuka trees.

Savage also said the DNA test was imperfect because the honey contained a compound that breaks down DNA over time.

"High grade honeys could fail the test because by the time they've been sitting in the jar for a year, there's no DNA left in them."

Rawcliffe said false negatives from a DNA test would be "catastrophic" to a high-grade brand and the test should be removed from the government standard.

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