13 Apr 2017

Beekeepers struggle to get unstuck from manuka red tape

6:49 am on 13 April 2017

Delays in getting a new manuka honey authenticity standard has put a manuka honey business "on the breadline," its owner says.

Manuka

The manuka flower. Photo: Supplied / Bayleys

Three years in the making, the Ministry for Primary Industries on Tuesday issued a proposed scientific definition of New Zealand manuka honey, designed to protect the market from fake products.

Under the definition, when five attributes of manuka honey - four chemicals and a DNA marker - are present at a specified level, it provides clear evidence that a honey is fact New Zealand manuka honey.

A six-week consultation period will now begin and the ministry was planning to have the definition take effect by late July.

Some beekeepers say the process has been too drawn out and has cost them valuable sales.

Craig Salmon, owner of Honeypai, a small wholesale manuka honey business in Paihia, said he had struggled to find a market for this season's harvest.

"Buyers were making sure that they weren't going to buy a crop that was going to be deemed to be unsellable or unexportable under the new regulations," he said.

MPI should have sorted out proposed scientific definition earlier, "not at the key point when you're trying to sell honey".

"It's been quite difficult, for little guys like me anyway."

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none Photo: RNZ

The ministry pushed out the date multiple times, meaning beekeepers were now turning to banks to keep their businesses afloat, Mr Salmon said.

"When you're a beekeeper you really only get paid once a year, or twice a year, after the seasons when you sell your honey.

"It means you have to spin all that money out for the year and hope like heck you can sell at the same time next year.

"In this case it's meant we haven't been able to do that and for the last three to four months we're right on the breadline."

While the new standard would be great for protecting the manuka honey industry long term, a lot of stress could have been avoided if the ministry had sorted its definition five months ago when production was hitting its peak, Mr Salmon said.

Long term benefits

Apiculture New Zealand chief executive Karin Kos said the short term difficulties would be outweighed by the long term benefits the industry would experience.

"Yes, there will be some frustration, and we absolutely understand the frustration and hear that from industry, but I think most in the industry understand that it's important to get this right."

Manuka honey (generic)

Photo: 123RF

The Ministry for Primary Industries is confident the definition will help get exports rolling again.

MPI deputy director general of regulation and assurance Bryan Wilson acknowledged there had been a slump in the market - but said that was about to change.

"The markets have been slow over the last year and the production of honey in New Zealand has been lower than normal, so yes, that has made it difficult for some beekeepers.

New Zealand would be the only country with a scientific definition of manuka honey, which would put it in a strong market position, Mr Wilson said.

To be considered New Zealand manuka honey under the new definition, five attributes - four chemicals and a DNA marker - need to be present at a specified level.

"This definition will now allow exporters to be confident about what they are getting, so we expect markets to be back in business pretty quickly, said Mr Wilson. "We expect it to make quite a difference."

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