Thursday, April 17, 2008

Medicinal Honey Expert Wades Into Debate Over ‘UMF’ Labeling

Re: The Article on Yahoo News Which was Reported on Apitherapy News “Legal Debate Takes Over Honey Research

[Editor’s Note: Responses from those holding opposing views are welcome. Send to:]

There is a factually incorrect statement in the information regarding Manuka Health:

In the statement “A Te Awamutu company, Manuka Health NZ Ltd, has funded German research which showed a natural compound, methylglyoxal, is responsible for manuka honey's unique antibacterial properties.” The statement about the company funding the research is incorrect. The discovery of the possibility that methylglyoxal was responsible for antibacterial activity in manuka honey was a serendipitous one made when assaying many different honeys for their content of methylglyoxal and finding that manuka honey had high levels. This was work done for (a) PhD thesis at the University of Dresden, before Manuka Health was set up as a company.

The statement “The discovery of a compound which can be easily checked with an objective scientific test has raised questions about the necessity for continued rating of medical honeys according to their "unique manuka factor" is misleading. The level of methylglyoxal in manuka honey will not tell you the actual antibacterial activity of the honey. This is because there is synergy with non-antibacterial components of the honey that gives activity around twice as high as that due to the methylglyoxal alone. The resultant activity is far from proportional to the level of methylglyoxal in the honey, such that consumers may be getting honey with less than half of the activity they would be expecting from the MGO rating.

The talk about competing brands draws attention away from this simple basic scientific information. UMF is not a brand. I devised it and gifted it to the honey industry in the public interest as a way of showing the true antibacterial activity that is not due to hydrogen peroxide like in other types of honey.

I have spent a very large amount of my time educating the public about the UMF rating being a way of ensuring that they are purchasing the true unique antibacterial activity that is in manuka honey and that they are getting the true level of activity they are led to believe they are buying, not being misled. The large amount of money that has been spent by producers and marketers of manuka honey has not been spent on “building the brand” but has actually been spent on trade-marking and taking action against companies to who are misusing the term ‘UMF’ to mislead consumers.

AMHA came into existence via an Industry Group that the New Zealand government set up and asked me to advise, the purpose of which was to give protection from the honest producers of the genuine active manuka honey from sellers of honey who were cashing in on the fame of manuka honey but selling to the consumer honey that did not have the activity that the consumer was expecting it to have. Many newcomers to the business of selling manuka honey, being attracted in to where money is to be made, are not aware of the history.

The UMF rating has nothing to do with the content of the “unique manuka factor” - it serves simply to show the actual antibacterial activity of the honey, which the MGO rating does not.

Whatever commercial competition goes on is not of my concern, and I do not get involved in it. But I have been active in trying to let consumers know where they are being misled. I have also been active in trying to prevent scientifically unsubstantiated claim being made about manuka honey (such as statements implying that it may be used to treat cancer), because this decreases the credibility of manuka honey as a therapeutic product for the topical treatment of infections. It is for this reason that AMHA has made it a condition of the use of the term ‘UMF’ on the labels of manuka honey that companies licensed to use it do not make unsubstantiated claims. I have also given AMHA advice on the standards to be set so that the consumer is best protected, and have urged them to audit licensed users to ensure that they are complying with protecting the consumer.

I have no commercial involvement at all in the selling of manuka honey.. My advice has been given at no charge, as it has been done in the public interest. I receive no research funding from AMHA, and have historically received only the costs (my time was not charged) of carrying out a small project to improve the accuracy of the testing method (which was work that was not publishable and thus was of no benefit to me.


Dr. P.C. Molan
Professor in Biological Sciences
Director, Honey Research Unit
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Waikato
Private Bag 3105
Hamilton 3240
New Zealand
Telephone +64 7 838 4325
Fax +64 7 838 4324

Visit our pages on honey at http//

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A thank you to Dr. Molan for clarifying (again) on the issue of methylglyoxal versus actual antibacterial activity in a given batch of manuka honey.

Despite his efforts to to try and stop consumers from being misled, and making much of his research information publicly available, there has unfortunately been many cases of 'lazy' journalism in press articles about manuka honey around the world. (this being the fault of the journalists). The resulting articles that have talked generally of manuka honey, and not mentioned the UMF labelling, has provided opportunity for some marketers to misled consumers with inferior honey.

Hopefully this current debate will lead to further clarification around UMF labelling, and lead to journalists providing better reporting around manuka honey in future.