The manuka honey industry has welcomed the Government's introduction of a test for the authenticity of its product, but the move by itself will not be enough to solve the issue of fake goods turning up in key overseas markets, say industry spokespeople.
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), after two years of development, this month released a scientific definition to authenticate New Zealand manuka honey, aimed at maintaining the local product's premium spot in overseas markets.
The definition is part of a consultation package proposing new requirements for the export of bee products.
It follows reports last year from Rowse Honey, Britain's biggest honey company, that the UK was awash with fake New Zealand manuka honey product.
Rowse called for a revision of the guidelines for the definition of manuka honey, after a report published in the UK trade magazine The Grocer questioned why interim guidelines, issued in 2014, by MPI had failed to effectively tackle the issue.
The rules around packaged product exported from New Zealand have already been tightened, but problems have continued in the policing of bulk exports.
Honey marketers are looking to the New Zealand wine industry's success in establishing New Zealand-made sauvignon blanc as a template for establishing New Zealand manuka honey as a brand, said John Kippenberger, chief executive of Manuka Health.
"We believe that we will look back at this moment and see it as a pivotal time for the industry," Kippenberger said.
"It (the test) is a very important step but you can't rely wholly on this," he said. "We have got to continue to build the New Zealand manuka honey brand around the world," he said.
"As an industry we are getting better at working together to do that."
John Rawcliffe, general manager of the UMF Honey Association, said the test would not put an end to the problem of fake honey, but test kits issued by the association had gone some way towards dealing with the problem.
Like Kippenberger, Rawcliffe said the challenge lay in establishing and entrenching the New Zealand manuka honey brand.
"The silver bullets are going to be the protection of the term 'manuka honey'," Rawcliffe said.
Manuka, a hardy plant, is already being grown in Portugal and parts of South America.
Species of manuka, which has the scientific name leptospermum, already exist in Australia.
"If we want to protect what the consumer sees and how they reference this honey, the protection of the term manuka honey is the best thing we can do to protect the industry and to ensure that it grows," Rawcliffe said.
The scientific definition has taken the Ministry for Primary Industries more than two years to develop.
MPI studied samples to find what the identifying attributes were from the plant that ultimately made up the manuka honey product.
Those experts then developed and validated test methods to make sure those attributes can be tested for, and worked out criteria for identifying monofloral and multifloral manuka honey.
Manuka Health's Kippenberger said the test would provide a framework that would give overseas regulators and consumers trust in the authenticity of the product.
"We are positive about the direction of this because this point [is] about giving overseas markets confidence," he said.
While the industry has had a history of taking a fragmented approach, Kippenberger said participants were starting to show that they could work together.
"There is work to do in building up the New Zealand manuka honey brand," he said.
Manuka honey has enjoyed explosive growth in demand, which last year helped make the biggest producer, Comvita, a top S&P/NZX 50 Index stock.