Sunday, February 17, 2008

Paul: MGO Manuka Honey Level is Consumer Friendly

[Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by Manuka Health New Zealand Limited Chief Executive Kerry Paul in response to an earlier statement by Professor Peter Molan, headlined “MGO Level Not Good Indicator of Honey’s Antibacterial Activity,” published on Apitherapy News. Note also that the term "MGO" is trademarked.]

The ground-breaking research from Professor Henle’s research group published in Journal of Molecular Nutrition and Food Research established for the first time methylglyoxal was responsible for the unique anti-bacterial activity of manuka honey. A later publication by the University of Waikato confirmed the Dresden discovery.

The significance of the University of Dresden research is consumers can now be informed about what is in the manuka honey they are consuming and given information about how it relates to anti-bacterial activity. The issue is about being honest with consumers and being transparent with the information provided.

MGO Manuka Honey is About Honesty and Clarity

Testing for methylglyoxal content is a simple measurement of the chemical content in the honey so consumers can be sure the amount of the methylglyoxal content they are purchasing. University of Dresden research shows a minimum of 100mg/kg methylglyoxal is needed to inhibit Staphylococcus aureus and other harmful bacteria. By showing the different methylglyoxal content on the label consumers can choose with reliability the methylglyoxal content they wish to purchase.

Manuka Health has launched a new certification system to explain this to consumers called MGO manuka honey. Simply, MGO 400 manuka honey means there is 400mg of methylglyoxal per kilogram of manuka honey which is easy for consumers to relate to. The higher the methylglyoxal content the higher the level of anti-bacterial activity.

Current systems have problems for consumers in getting reliable and meaningful information. These are the percentage rating systems used to describe anti-bacterial activity in relation to a common anti-septic using the agar diffusion assay. Most sellers of manuka honey and consumers cannot understand what the percentages mean.

Consumers Cannot Rely on Label Claims

The agar diffusion assay used to measure the anti-bacterial activity of honey is open to error and that is why medical researchers use the Minimum Inhibitory Concentration (MIC) assay to present their research. The diffusion assay is based on the anti-bacterial activity of phenol the common antiseptic and the ratings for honey are based on the amount of phenol used in a solution to measure the activity. This works at its best between 10% and 18% for honey but is still subject to error. Outside this range the amount of potential error increases significantly. This is demonstrated in the Carbohydrate Research paper where the Comvita UMF30 (originally tested by a commercial laboratory) has been re-tested by university students at UMF27 (see Table 1 in the paper). Consumers cannot rely on the label stating accurately the anti-bacterial activity because the test method is not reliable.

It is a commonly accepted view by all those involved in using the agar diffusion assay for honey testing that the system needs significant improvement. For many years there has been widespread dissatisfaction with the reliability of results particularly over 18% solution of phenol.

Phenol Standards Meaningless for Consumers

Using a comparative rating scale where the anti-bacterial activity of honey is linked to an equivalent solution of phenol is not an easy concept for consumers to comprehend. The main reason is consumers cannot relate to what does a 10% solution of phenol mean in terms of anti-bacterial activity and how other percentages of phenol relate to one other.

With MGO manuka honey consumers have for the first time a certification system able to provide them reliable information about what they are consuming.

Kerry Paul
Chief Executive
Manuka Health New Zealand Limited
Cell +64-274504333
Ph +647 8706555


New Zealand Honey Shop said...

I'd just like to add a few comments to this from the perspective of someone selling manuka honey (in the UK, so comments are based on the UK market).

Consumers can understand the UMF rating system when it is explained to them. The main problem is that it is rarely mentioned, let alone explained to them. The biggest obstacle is that too many consumers don't know that not all manuka honey is the same, and that there exists different levels. This problem as been largely influenced by media reports that just talk generally of manuka honey and the research into it, and have not added that it varies from basic honey through to highly antibacterial.

This problem is then further heightened because most high street shops and their staff selling it, do not know, and do not care, about what they are selling (this includes 'independent specialist health food shops', the kind consumers would expect to get decent information from, but in practice often can't).

The problem is in the communication of the standard, rather than the standard itself.

When a consumer asks what is the difference between a UMF10 and a UMF20 honey, it is quite easy to explain to them that in a basic sense the UMF20 is twice as strong.

Now in Professor Molan's comments he pointed out that using the MGO standard / levels, then a MGO800 honey is not twice as strong (in terms of antibacterial activity) as a MGO400 honey. How is that to be explained to a consumer?

In practice shop staff would end up telling consumers that the MGO 800 has twice the amount of methylgloxal in it as a MGO 400, and therefore is twice as potent. Which is actually misleading to the consumer, when the research pointed to by Professor Molan shows there is not a linear relationship between the methylgloxal level and actual antibacterial activity.

The UMF system may not be perfect, but adding a new rating system alongside it will cause additional confusion for consumers to what already exists.

If a different / new rating system is to be useful to consumers (and isn't this the aim?) then it first needs to reach a consensus of agreement from a majority of producers and researchers that it is a better system, and then there needs to be a clear communication strategy to consumers of it.

Because as said earlier, in the UK at least, it is the communication of the rating system that is the main problem.

Manuka said...

I too sell Manuka Honey in th UK and can see where Peter Molan is coming from UMF is basic it makes sense and is not misleading. MGO is not really misleading but it's not a good reflection of it's antibacterial properties and can become confusing.