30 May 2017

Purest mānuka failing new honey standards

12:23 pm on 30 May 2017

Some of the best mānuka honey in the country is failing the government's proposed new testing standards designed to protect the market from fake products, an industry advisor says.

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none Photo: RNZ

In April the government released a proposed scientific definition of mānuka honey to govern what could legally be exported using that label.

Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is still receiving submissions on the proposal but in the meantime producers have been testing their honey to see if it passed.

Independent industry adviser John Hill said he has had clients whose honey has failed under the proposed standards despite being some of the best in the country.

He said producers had been testing hundreds of samples of the best mānuka honey, worth up to $300 a kilogram, and about 20 percent had failed.

Mr Hill said the significant fail rate had huge implications for mānuka honey producers and he wanted MPI to sort it out as soon as possible.

He said it had already been a bad year for beekeepers, with the weather affecting produce.

Honey farmers were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on testing that may have to be repeated, and the process had thrown the industry into chaos, Mr Hill said.

"The standard's not being set... has actually unsettled the total industry. And packers aren't buying honey, beekeepers can't sell their honey, the overseas markets are jittery, and so it's turning into a very topsy-turvy time for the industry."

Bryan Wilson, a senior MPI official, said there appeared to be a problem with the laboratory testing methods used, and work was being done to fix it.

"It's the way in which the testing for DNA is undertaken. There is potentially some interference with some of the chemicals, so we're working on how that might be fixed and we think we've got a solution," he said.

Mr Wilson was confident that needing to adjust the laboratory methods was not an issue, and was a normal part of implementing new testing standards.

"Our test is designed to separate mānuka honey from other sorts of honey. We are pretty confident in the way we have got that set up. We would expect a level of difference between what our tests show and what the industry's tests show. That's why we started this process in the first place."

Industry adviser Mr Hill said he just wanted MPI to make sure the product was pure mānuka and true to the label.

"We do want to make sure the consumer is not deceived, that they get what they want, that they get what they're paying for and that's part of the reason that this started from MPI, to make sure the consumer was getting it and I think we're all on the same page about that."

Mr Wilson said the ministry would retest those producers who had failed on a case-by-case basis.

Submissions for the new testing ends on 13 June, and Mr Wilson was positive that any issues could be fixed at the end of the consultation process.

"Once we have gone through analysing all of the results from that consultation and what we're doing now, then we will finalise our position. At that stage, there's still some time before the testing comes into force, so there's plenty of time still to get this right."

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