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Nobody's happy with manuka honey definitions: MPI

Nobody's happy with manuka honey definitions: MPI

By Suze Metherell

June 24 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand's lack of definition for what constitutes manuka honey has overseas regulators worried about forgeries, with China likely to introduce a certification scheme for the honey imports, the Ministry for Primary Industries is telling the country's beekeepers.

There is no industry-wide consensus on exactly what constitutes manuka honey, with MPI working to come up with a formal definition and a method for identification. While it isn't a food safety issue, MPI "takes concerns about the authenticity of New Zealand products very seriously and is acting to address these," according to its website.

"We've certainly been talking with regulators in a number of other countries," Jim Sim, an MPI adviser told the New Zealand Apiculture Conference in Wairakei. "Our end game is putting a definition into some legislation."

Chinese officials are concerned about manuka honey forgeries and want to see a formal definition, BusinessDesk understands. There's been concern in the UK over the validity of manuka honey, with media reports that more manuka honey is sold and eaten in the UK than New Zealand actually produces.

"One of the reasons our Chinese colleagues are intending to come and audit is because they are somewhat perturbed by the labelling and claims and what is actually going in the jar, in terms of what's being sold in China and that may have some ramifications," Sim told the conference "I don't want to speculate on what those might be, we won’t know till we get there, but certainly we are expecting a certification arrangement with China."

Asian demand for manuka honey has seen the price for all New Zealand honey increase, amid a global honey shortage. Bees produced $187 million of exported honey in the June 2014 year, up 8 percent by volume and almost 30 percent by value on the previous year.

MPI has introduced an interim definition as well as a labelling guide for manuka honey, which outlines the characteristics of manuka-type honey and prevents manufacturers from making health claims. The agency says those selling honey which has the characteristics listed by MPI can be confident their honey has "some manuka in it" but isn't necessarily manuka honey, Sim said.

"We know by creating this definition we've also created a new class of honey. We have seen a few jars labelled as 'manuka-type honey'," Sim said. "Nobody is happy with this interim definition. We're not happy with it, you're not happy with it and overseas regulators are not happy with it. We are not going to enforce it. All we are saying is on the data we have available this is the best we could do at this point in time."

MPI expects to review the definition this year to improve clarity, but is still working on a way to actually define what makes manuka honey distinct from regular honey.

"At this point in time we don't have the data to drive forward on a better definition but we can certainly change some things to improve clarity."

Manuka honey export labels must also now meet the Food Standard Australia New Zealand codes, which covers health claims, unless there is a specific exemption. Sim said MPI has issued complaints. He didn't go into further details but said there were active investigations underway over export labels not following the guidelines.


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