By Sophie Boot
Dec. 12 (BusinessDesk) - Mānuka honey will be given an official marker under a new testing regime issued by the Ministry for Primary Industries, as the UK recognises New Zealand's rights to the name.
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor announced the new standard for the honey today. The mānuka honey industry is currently worth around $180 million to New Zealand every year, but there have been concerns about the authenticity of products sold as mānuka honey as more was being sold than was being produced in New Zealand, and it was until now not regulated.
"The longer this was left unresolved, the more the mānuka honey industry and New Zealand's reputation was at stake," O'Connor said. The export requirements on mānuka labelling will come into force from Feb. 5, 2018.
O'Connor also said the UK's trademark agency has just agreed to accept that mānuka honey is only from New Zealand. In August, Comvita published research which identified signature compounds in mānuka, though these have not been included in MPI's definition, and O'Connor said he wasn't sure what the industry would do now.
"I think everyone in the industry knew the need for a definition to be clarified," he said. "This won't please everyone, but we believe it's absolutely necessary, it's scientifically robust, and while it may not be perfect it is best international efforts to get this right."
The honey will be tested for four chemical markers and one DNA marker before being sold overseas as mānuka. Industry groups had pushed for a definition based on the compound leptosperin, but O'Connor said today that though it was considered very carefully, officials "weren't able to give an assurance it was scientifically robust and that the definition would meet the shelf life of mānuka honey in retail outlets."
Producers will pay to have each batch of their mānuka honey tested, at about $150 per 200-litre drum, O'Connor said, adding that the price of genuine mānuka honey may increase due to the certification.
"There are still cowboy operators out there. In fact, there are two in court at the moment, so we have proof of adulteration over the years", O'Connor said. "The cost will fall on producers, but relative to the value of the honey this is a very small amount, and I think those that are genuinely exporting mānuka honey will see this as a very small cost to secure their product and its reputation."
The test can also identify whether the mānuka honey is monofloral - produced by the nectar of a single plant - or multifloral.