The Government and the honey industry need to move quickly to set labelling guidelines for manuka honey after a nationwide warning was issued in Britain, Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye says.
The UK's Food Standards Agency issued the warning about misleading and illegal claims made on the labels of manuka honey jars.
Ms Kaye this morning said she took the damage to the New Zealand brand very seriously and an international labelling standard for manuka honey was needed.
"It's really important when it comes to food to have integrity on the label, that's why in the short term I think here is a need for a guideline," she told Radio New Zealand.
"I know the industry have been meeting with the Ministry for Primary Industries and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to work through that in the short term, but in the long term there needs to be an international standard."
Ms Kaye said the industry and officials were meeting again this week, and they would have to move quickly on the labelling issue.
She said part of the difficulty was around the science.
"Because in order to get a correct label, you have to land on what that label is going to say. And part of the difficulty is that there aren't any clear scientific markers at the moment, so the whole debate is around what that label says."
Ms Kaye said it needed to be done right because there was a huge opportunity for honey producers.
"People do want manuka honey and if we can get that label right then there is a huge opportunity to grow the industry."
UMF Honey Association general manager John Rawcliffe said consumers in New Zealand and overseas could be confident the producers of products bearing the UMFHA quality trademark had been subjected to rigorous testing.
He said manuka honey was highly sought after globally but was in short supply.
"And with consumers prepared to pay a premium, it is open to abuse by unscrupulous organisations. The UMFHA and the members it represents place a high priority on ensuring that consumers are able to make informed choices and that UMF manuka honey is true to label."
Mr Rawcliffe said the association had formed partnerships with overseas agencies to create a testing regime, as a way of protecting New Zealand's lucrative manuka honey exports.
That included a partnership with the UK Government's biological and chemical analysis laboratory - the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) - to establish a verification programme in the UK.
The programme was aimed at protecting consumers and retailers against buying and stocking fraudulent and adulterated manuka honey products.
"As a result, consumers and local health food stores in the UK have been given the opportunity to submit honey to Fera for testing. This is a comprehensive campaign that aims to stamp out and crack down on products that aren't true to label."
The association had also established a testing regime in China which ensured all honey claiming to have non-peroxide activity was subjected to testing before it was released for sale.