Monday, May 11, 2009

Manuka Honey Industry in Bitter Dispute Over Antibacterial Standard

Sticky Situation for Honey Industry
By Rob Stock, Sunday Star Times (New Zealand), 5/10/2009

The intense flavour of dark manuka honey was once so disliked it was added to cattle feed or flushed away.

Today it earns such a premium on the export market that fake manuka honey has become a serious problem. Industry sources say twice as much manuka honey is sold than is produced in New Zealand every year.

Instead of dealing with the problem, the $100 million industry is gripped by bitter in-fighting and legal feuding a situation so serious that National MP Paul Hutchison has called on industry leaders to set their differences aside before the business is tarnished beyond repair.

"The industry leaders must think of the collective good," he said. "The present situation is not good for anyone and it puts New Zealand's reputation at risk."

Brett Hewlett, chief executive of honey exporter Comvita, backs Hutchison.

"[The industry] has got all the potential of being a very large and sustainable industry for New Zealand, reforesting New Zealand and bringing employment to poorer communities. If we could just align our interests and stop the squabbling, everyone could benefit."

There are few signs of that happening.

The industry is at war and some of the industry's biggest names, including Comvita, are embroiled in court battles. Private investigators have been hired to snoop on rivals.

Underlying it all is the question of what makes manuka honey so special an antibacterial quality claimed to have health benefits and known, by the industry body at least, as Unique Manuka Factor, or UMF.

The warring goes back to a decision last year by the Active Manuka Honey Association to step up testing to quietly identify honey producers among its membership whose product was not true to the UMF label…

The industry body is also engaged in tit-for-tat sniping with another large producer, Manuka Health a falling out which followed when the association tested the company's honey and concluded that it was not always true to label.

Although the feuding is a financial drain on the association and the companies involved, the biggest risk to the manuka honey industry comes from the amount of dubious manuka honey on the shelves, and a warring industry cannot deal with that.

Quality manuka honeys can fetch $200 a kilo, and the high prices mean there's a great temptation to misrepresent the content...

Molan told the Sunday Star-Times: "Two-thirds of what is being sold isn't the genuine article."…

Rather than the warring easing, there are signs it could intensify as Active Manuka Honey Association's disputes have led to rivals setting up quality marks in opposition to UMF.

Waikato University plans to unveil its own testing regime and quality mark in the next few weeks in a bid to unseat UMF as the leading brand trusted by consumers.

Molan said the move was designed to save the industry and create a trusted quality mark that the manuka honey association did not control. "We are going ahead just to get some independence on this," Molan said.

He said the new university test was more accurate than the UMF tests, and the association was welcome to use the new tests, but it would not be allowed to decide who could or couldn't use it…

He was scathing about the other rival to UMF, the MGO test championed by Manuka Health. That test identifies the level of methylgloxal, the active substance in manuka honey, but Molan said it was "misleading", because the activity of methylgloxal in manuka honey depended on other substances in the honey, not the level of MGO alone.

There are other quality marks in existence, including the ULF mark from Australia, where honey producers are beginning to jump on the manuka bandwagon. Australia has species of manuka, including the "jelly bush".

But Comvita and Honey New Zealand, the two biggest producers, both remain backers of UMF, and have called on other producers to back the manuka honey association, which is facing steep legal bills in its battle with Watson & Co

1 comment:

Manuka Honey said...

All of this politics is making it difficult for consumers to feel comfortable with the concept of using Manuka Honey for medicinal purposes.