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Comvita Moves to Assure Honey-Loving Public

Media release
March 26, 2008

Comvita Moves to Assure New Zealand's Honey-Loving Public

In response to recent reports of people falling ill after eating honeycomb containing tutin toxin, one of New Zealand's largest and most trusted honey manufacturers wishes to put consumers' minds at ease that most honey is safe to eat.

Comvita, the world's leading producer of Manuka honey, advises New Zealanders that toxic honey, such as that reported in the past few days, is very uncommon. However, if Kiwis are in doubt, it is best to choose a product from a reputable source.

Professional apiculturalist Cliff Van Eaton says toxic honey is a rare event that can occur mainly in very hot dry summers, such as New Zealand is experiencing now. Toxic sap from the tutu plant (only prevalent in certain areas of New Zealand) is collected by an insect called the passion vine hopper. Honey bees then collect honeydew produced by the passion vine hopper nymphs and take it back to the hive, says Van Eaton.

Because the toxin can be present in individual cells in a honeycomb in concentrated amounts, honeycomb honey can carry a higher risk says Van Eaton. We believe normal honey which is extracted by beekeepers and sold in drums to companies like Comvita is a much safer option he says.

"Comvita has an extensive quality assurance programme in place that prevents risk of its honey being affected," says Comvita general manager supply chain Nevin Amos. "We are a leader in this field and have had an extensive monitoring system in place for some years.

"The professional beekeepers that Comvita buys from are all aware of the tutin toxin issue and are required to have a Risk Management Programme in place that is audited by New Zealand Food Safety Authority. Beekeepers monitor the Tutu plants in their area. Comvita's beekeepers must validate their honey is safe and that they have undertaken the required monitoring.

"We also audit our suppliers and they all are required to tell us where their hive sites are and when extraction took place so we can determine any additional risk."

When honey is sourced from at risk areas, the honey is subject to a test conducted by a Crown Research Institute, says Amos. This test can detect the tutin toxin.

Customers can have confidence that Comvita's honey is safe to eat, says Amos.

"We have invested extensively in our Quality Assurance systems to ensure we have the highest quality product and it's comforting for our consumers to know we treat issues like this very seriously."


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