The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has defended its guidelines covering the export of manuka honey after Rowse Honey, Britain's biggest honey company, said they had failed to prevent the UK from being flooded with fake product.
Rowse called for a revision of guidelines for the definition of manuka honey, after a report published in the UK trade magazine The Grocer questioned why the guidelines set by MPI to tackle fake manuka honey haven't worked.
The report said more manuka honey is sold around the globe than is exported by New Zealand - its sole source - and that sales in the UK alone account for more than New Zealand's total output, indicating that the UK market is flooded with fake manuka honey.
Allan Kinsella, MPI's director of systems, audit, assurance and monitoring, said the purpose of the interim guidelines, published in July 2014, was to clarify existing legislative requirements for labelling. They reflect the information available at that point in time for describing a manuka-type honey.
Kinsella said in response to a Herald inquiry that they were not intended to be a final and definitive response to concerns surrounding the labelling of manuka honey.
MPI is leading and managing a science programme to support the development of a robust science-based definition for monofloral manuka honey. The programme, which began in 2014, is due for completion by the end of 2016, he said.
Once the work is finalised, work will begin on updating requirements for the labelling and verification of monofloral manuka honey.
All product exported under such official assurances must meet all New Zealand law, including labelling requirements. New Zealand has no legal jurisdiction over New Zealand-produced honey packaged and labelled in other countries.
"This means that New Zealand cannot take direct action against mislabelling in other countries," Kinsella said.
Scott Coulter, chief executive of New Zealand's biggest manuka honey maker - Comvita - said the rules around packaged product exported from New Zealand had tightened up significantly but that the problem lay in bulk exports.
There is still some work to be done to define exactly how you actually test [for authenticity].Scott Coulter, Chief executive Comvita
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"There is still some work to be done to define exactly how you actually test [for authenticity]," Coulter said. "What happens is that people export bulk honey - which you don't need to meet regulations on - and repack it in the UK, so the UK consumer can be disadvantaged because they are buying repackaged product."
There has been quite a lot of change, much of it driven by MPI, Coulter said. "It's been positive for the industry but we aren't there yet," Coulter said.
Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) Honey Association general manager John Rawcliffe said the association had spent a lot of time and money to back up its UMF quality trademark.
"Consumers in New Zealand and overseas can have confidence that when they buy honey bearing the UMF quality trademark they are purchasing genuine New Zealand manuka honey," he said.
"This assurance follows over four years of industry commitment and investment facilitating a world-leading international research effort that has utilised the latest technology, including high resolution mass spectrometry, to identify key signature compounds found in manuka honey."
The association will soon be launching a campaign in the UK to communicate to consumers the result of this research programme and the substantial body of science behind the UMF trademark.
The association is also working with the Food Environment and Research Agency (FERA) in the UK to ensure that consumers, retailers and regulators are able to easily verify that Manuka Honey products are true to label. Rawcliffe said the MFHA will also soon be rolling out an indicator test which gives retailers a simple method for testing products.