Manuka honey producers want tighter rules, reports Carmen Hall.

The Beekeepers' Association is concerned that drums of manuka honey are being exported then diluted and repackaged using original documentation for financial gain.

President Ricki Leahy says the association has no problem with reputable companies sending honey overseas to another branch of their business to pack, but "cowboys" were bringing the industry into disrepute.

"I am worried about the honey being exported where we as an industry lose control of our product," Leahy says. "I believe that might be where a lot of the cowboy activity may be happening, so it's being misrepresented overseas."

He suspects the honey is being blended to create a larger volume and attain higher prices.


"They are trying to ride on the back of the good values of manuka and are probably still representing it from the original documentation they got. There is a lot of manuka honey that is produced and it isn't the full manuka honey, it is actually brought in as a multi-fuel blend, if you like, and is possibly being misrepresented as a more pure line of manuka."

The concerns come on the heels of Britain's Food Standards Agency issuing a nationwide warning about misleading and illegal claims on the labels of honey jars.

Tests by British, Chinese and Singaporean laboratories reveal that many manuka honey products have none of the claimed active properties, prompting industry leaders to crack down.

New Zealand manuka honey commands prices 10 to 20 times higher than other types of honey because of its much-vaunted anti-bacterial properties. It is estimated to earn this country as much as $120 million a year. Some of the companies selling mislabelled honey are New Zealand producers and some are foreign. But the allegations are putting even the most reputable New Zealand honey producers under the spotlight.

Mossop's Honey owner Neil Mossop says they are the oldest and largest locally owned beekeeping company in the Bay of Plenty and have an international brand to protect.

The company was a founding member of the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association, which represents 38 licensed companies. Mossop's is 100 per cent in favour of auditing and accountability to make sure what is in the jar is correctly labelled. "If that means weeding out these cowboys we are all for it. In the last year we have had in excess of 400 beekeepers come into the industry that are new and have no prior experience.

"All they are doing is jumping on the bandwagon and hoping to make a lot of money, so they have really got no stake in the industry. Mossop's has increased its local and New Zealand market by 50 per cent and its international presence by 30 per cent because of great service and high quality products, and that was being jeopardised," Mossop says. "People are coming in and undercutting us with cheaper pass-off imitation products."

Comvita, New Zealand's biggest manuka honey producer, is also demanding that the industry be cleared of "cowboys".