A major honey company has been ordered to pulp 40,000 labels that made illegal claims about the health benefits of the New Zealand manuka honey which it sells throughout the UK.

But the company's chairman has hit back angrily, blaming "absolutely crass, amateurish and stupid" New Zealand honey producers for problems in the growing export industry.

Bulk honey shipped from New Zealand and packed by Littleover Apiaries for the English market was among manuka honey products tested by the UK Food and Environment Research Agency in October 2011. The tests revealed no non-peroxide activity - the unique anti-bacterial activity that makes manuka honey so valuable - in a jar of Littleover's "active 15+" manuka honey.

Tony Spacey, the chairman and chief executive of Littleover Group in Derby, dismissed the test results as rogue, saying the claims on the labels of his honey products were verified by reputable laboratories in New Zealand and the UK.


"Most of the shonky New Zealand manuka honey arriving in the UK is bottled in New Zealand and sold by New Zealanders," he told the Herald on Sunday. "I would strongly suggest the New Zealanders stop exporting crap."

This month, Littleover was forced by authorities to destroy 40,000 labels which said the honey had been "used for years as a beneficial aid to health". Spacey said the crackdown had cost his firm tens of thousands of pounds.

In turn, he had reported a New Zealand manuka honey exporter to UK Trading Standards this week for "misleading" labelling, and alleged at least two other major New Zealand companies were also breaking the law.

"Because the price is so screaming high, it's encouraged the cowboys in New Zealand to label anything they can get away with as manuka."

Spacey said the amount of product labelled and sold as manuka honey around the world vastly exceeded the amount produced in New Zealand.

"You'd have to bulldoze Auckland and Wellington and replant them with manuka, increase your bee population by 400 per cent, and you still couldn't produce enough to fill the jars that are labelled 'New Zealand manuka honey'."