27 Jun 2017

Australian honey challenge to NZ Mānuka

12:21 pm on 27 June 2017

Australian scientists say they've developed a process for authenticating a West Australian honey as having medicinal properties to rival manuka - but the New Zealand Mānuka industry says it's misleading.

The Ministry for Primary Industries wants to be able to more accurately define the properties of manuka honey.

Australian scientists say their Western Australian honey has higher levels of antimicrobial activity than New Zealand Mānuka honey. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

As the value of Mānuka honey has soared, there have similar cases of other countries claiming they have an equally effective honey.

The UMF Honey Association has developed a scientific classification criteria for Mānuka and is trying to trademark the use of the word Mānuka to protect it.

In Western Australia the ABC reports that scientists have developed a certification of honey from the state's jarrah and marri trees that will rival New Zealand's Mānuka honey.

The scientists said their Western Australian honey has higher levels of antimicrobial activity than New Zealand Mānuka honey, and with certification they hope to put it on the market.

But John Rawcliffe from the UMF Honey Association said their science was misleading and could be damaging for this country's market.

"They define their antibacterial activity as 'total activity', which is the peroxide activity - which is available in all honey, so to compare it directly to Mānuka is misleading.

"It could damage - these sorts of claims are not helpful... but the uniqueness of the Mānuka honey will stand up."

Mr Rawcliffe said it was not the first time other countries had claimed to have a honey to rival Mānuka.

"We had the example of heather honey out of Scotland claiming very similar statements, and again it was only the peroxide activity...

"The consumer needs to be aware when they see this word 'total activity' it is not an expression of what is unique to Mānuka."

Mānuka has unique properties over and above the peroxide activity of honey, and so far has only been found in the Leptospermum species, he said.

The new Australian certification is funded by their government and developed by industry and food testing laboratory ChemCentre.

ChemCentre principal food scientist Ken Dods said until two years ago the Australian honey industry was selling mostly blended honey.

"What we weren't doing was capturing this unique, individual antimicrobial value, which we had leadership from the New Zealand market as having very high value in an export marketplace.

"So we began to do a little bit of research and found that our honey here in Western Australia actually has very high antimicrobial value as well... to the extent that it's much higher than what you see in Mānuka honey."

Mr Dods said the jarrah and marri honeys had up to 35 activity units and customers are recognising this.

He said the new certification process would protect and grow the Western Australia honey industry.

'Long legal journey'

The UMF Honey Association is in the middle of trying to get a Certification Trademark for the descriptor 'Mānuka Honey'.

Mr Rawcliffe said it was a long process.

"It's an interesting journey, and it's going to be a long journey - we're heading down the track to protect the term 'Mānuka Honey'.

"It's a long legal journey, but we are making progress."

He said the recent claims from Australia emphasise why it was so important to protect it because it will continue to happen until the term is trademarked.

Apiculture New Zealand said the increasing number of people working to find honey with similar attributies to Mānuka is because of the global demand for natural medicinal products.

Chief executive Karin Kos said the demand was outstripping supply and people should not be complacent because it was important for New Zealand to tell its unique Mānuka story well.

She said the Ministry for Primary Industries scientific definition would help protect the market.