Government has tested 800 samples from around the world to create a benchmark definition for the prized product
The New Zealand government has tested 800 samples of honey from around the world to establish a scientific definition of genuine manuka honey and crackdown on alleged fakes.
Jars purporting to be New Zealand manuka were pulled from UK shelves including at Fortnum & Mason earlier this year when it was discovered they were fake amid a craze for the product, which is highly valued for its medicinal properties.
The demand has pushed the cost of some jars to NZ$590 (327) but has also encouraged unscrupulous producers to fake the active manuka content, leptosperin, in their product.
After three years of testing honey samples, New Zealands ministry of primary industries (MPI) has released a scientific definition to be used to authenticate manuka honey destined for export in a bid to restore consumer confidence.
The new definition means that honey must have five attributes four chemicals and one DNA marker – in order to be classified as genuine New Zealand manuka.
Questions have been raised in overseas markets about the authenticity of some honey being sold as New Zealand manuka honey, said Bryan Wilson, deputy director-general of MPI.
It is important that overseas regulators have confidence in the assurances we give them about New Zealand manuka honey, and that consumers in those countries are confident they are getting the real deal. If not, our access to markets could be put at risk or we may lose the premium price which our bee products command overseas.
The authentication test is being embraced by industry officials in New Zealand, who say the honey business is long-overdue for increased regulation and government testing.
Hive thefts, vandalism and poisonings have become standard fare in the New Zealand manuka industry, with most professional beekeepers the victim of one or more serious crimes.
In the six months prior to January more than 400 bee or honey thefts were recorded, according to New Zealand police.
In 2010 the top price fetched for bulk manuka honey was NZ$37.50/kg (22/kg). Today it can command more than NZ$100/kg.
The export to the UK, China and other countries is expected to reach NZ$400m in the next few years.