A Northland beekeeper says a lack of action on a mānuka honey definition change makes him feel like the Government "doesn't give a damn" about the region.
On Wednesday Tai Tokerau Miere - a group of honey entities from Northland - hosted its third hui of the year to discuss how honey producers are being affected by the current definition of mānuka honey.
In December 2017, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) created an official definition of mānuka honey based on the levels of four marker chemicals, plus the presence of mānuka pollen DNA.
The problem, according to Northland honey producers, is that the level of one of those markers - 2-Methoxyacetophenone (or 2-MAP) - is lower in Northland, meaning even where bees have nothing but mānuka to feed on, the honey could miss out on a mānuka classification and the extra cash that comes with it.
John Craig, a Pataua North beekeeper and honey manager for Ngāti Hine, said despite talking to MPI about the issue for about a year, no progress had been made on getting the definition changed.
"It makes me feel like the New Zealand Government doesn't give a damn about Northland," he said.
Top-grade mānuka honey can fetch up to $70 per kg but if tests define it as non-mānuka, the price drops to less than $20 per kg.
Craig said he knew of honey producers who have had to throw in the towel after the introduction of the definition, and others who were close to it.
"It's really a matter of a lot of iwi in Northland are trying to get value from their land which has lots of mānuka on it, and then the Government busts out new rules."
Sand excavation at Matapōuri to restart despite stark opposition
Best of 2019: 90-year-old Northland Kiwifruit grower feeding the world
'It feels like nothing is being done': 10-mth wait for hospital specialist
Steve Hathaway, MPI chief scientist for New Zealand food safety, said it was important to have a robust national definition for mānuka honey that is based on representative scientific evidence from all regions and takes into account other regulatory considerations such as prevention of adulteration.
"We are committed to monitoring the performance of the current definition on several fronts and remain open to change if new scientific knowledge justifies such change in the future," he said.
Hathaway said MPI did not have statistical evidence that 2-MAP levels in honey expected to be mānuka honey by the beekeeper were lower in Northland compared with the average levels from other regions.
He said MPI would continue to meet with Northland mānuka honey producers and their representatives.
"We understand the definition is frustrating for some producers whose honey doesn't meet it," he said.
"We want to reiterate we have evaluated new data provided by Tai Tokerau Miere as well as that generated from our own ongoing science programme, but to date, it has not been sufficient to justify change to the national definition."
Meanwhile, Te Tai Tokerau Miere chairman Pita Tipene said although he believed the Government was doing "substantial things" to improve the circumstances of Northlanders,
a lack of progress on changing the mānuka honey definition seemed to be "opposite to what this Government is currently doing".
"That's why this stands out like a sore thumb," he said.
Tipene said Te Tai Tokerau Miere would be collating more scientific evidence and putting it in front of MPI.
"Northland refuses to be collateral damage. Basically they're saying come on guys suck it up because there are a whole lot of people and groups in this country who like this definition, but we're not going to accept that."