NZ exporters demand crackdown after magazine suggests retailers raking it in selling bogus manuka.
Manuka honey exporters want the Government to clamp down on "cowboys" bringing the $150 million-a-year industry into international disrepute.
"The whole thing is stupid - it's the whole New Zealand Inc reputation - the legislation is available," said Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association chief John Rawcliffe last night of a damning report into counterfeit product allegedly crowding British supermarket shelves.
"We have to do things correctly and we can really grow this industry. If we continue this way, we are going to make fools of ourselves," he said.
Mr Rawcliffe was responding from Bali to a special investigation by Britain's The Grocer trade magazine, which claims lack of clarity over what constitutes real manuka honey is allowing dodgy dealers to sell bogus product for up to $116 for a 500g jar, as endorsements from movie and sports stars fuel global demand.
Under a headline "The Great Manuka Honey Swindle", the magazine quotes a honey expert as claiming a leading British retailer has pocketed $39 million from selling jars of what it claims to be manuka honey but which is no better for consumers than a Scottish heather honey 90 per cent cheaper.
It asks whether retailers are deliberately misleading consumers or whether they are victims of confused claims about the disease-fighting properties of true manuka, which Hollywood A-lister Scarlett Johanssen swears by, as do tennis star Novak Djokovic and classical singer Katherine Jenkins.
The Grocer says only 1700 tonnes of true manuka honey are produced annually in New Zealand, yet 1800 tonnes of what purports to be the sweet elixir are sold in Britain among 10,000 tonnes globally.
Mr Rawcliffe said the annual production figure was more like 2400 tonnes but there were too many unscrupulous operators both here and overseas undermining the efforts of honest players.
He said his organisation of more than 50 producers was spending $1 million on a rating system for a "unique manuka factor" or UMF.
Brett Hewlett of leading manuka honey exporter Comvita said: "You can't label something manuka honey if it doesn't have manuka in it, and if the producer did that knowingly there is no other word to call that than fraud." Mr Hewlett said some honey was repackaged overseas before being passed off as manuka, but a lot was sent directly from this country.
Ministry of Primary Industries deputy director-general for regulation and assurance Scott Gallacher said last night it expected to issue guidelines this month for labelling of manuka honey.
- Additional reporting Daily Mail