The manuka honey labelling guidelines released last week by the New Zealand government are not accurate, the country’s oldest producer has argued.
According to Airborne Honey, the Ministry of Primary Industry’s interim labelling guide needs to become closer aligned to the Codex international standard for honey if the government’s aim is to regulate the industry and restore global trust.
Codex has a better idea
The Codex Commission is a standards group run by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. According to Codex, honey may be designated according to a floral or plant source if it comes wholly or mainly from that particular source, and has the organoleptic, physicochemical and microscopic properties corresponding with that origin.
“This means manuka must taste like manuka, have a sugar spectrum, mineral levels and pollen content consistent with manuka, and be undamaged by heat levels below 40mg/kg,” explained Peter Bray, Airborne’s managing director.
“Based on longstanding research the product should contain in excess of 70% manuka pollen to be classified as manuka honey.”
Although the ministry’s guidelines refer to some elements consistent with Codex, the guideline's requirement for the presence of manuka-type pollen fails to meet its requirement for "microscopic properties corresponding with that origin", the most important identification tool in the standard.
The presence of methylglyoxal (MG), a single, unstable chemical marker not required by the international standard, has also been included.
“MG has been included after extensive lobbying by those that only measure this chemical,” continued Bray.
“Other countries already applying the Codex to manuka honey do not use MG for good reason. It forms from another precursor substance [dihydroxyacetone] that varies widely in manuka nectar, changes at different rates over time and eventually disappears.”
Not just manuka
Current research show that high levels of MG can be found in natural or manmade blends containing less than 20% pure manuka honey. Moreover, MG can be found in other plant species, meaning it is not unique to manuka and the precursor in manuka nectar is a readily available pharmaceutical ingredient used as the key active ingredient in sunless tanning products.
“The Interim labelling guide for manuka honey as it currently stands will not provide consumers or overseas regulators with the assurance that a honey is ‘wholly or mainly’ manuka—thy key phrase in the Codex honey standard, the EU honey directive and the UK honey standards.”
Airborne Honey said it will continue to adhere to the Codex standard and hopes that the interim guidelines will be aligned closer to the already established and globally recognised standard.
“It was always going to be a challenge, with so many opinions and different interests involved,” said Bray. “With exports growing from NZ$11m [US$9.3m] in 2000 to NZ$170m last year—and on track to NZ$200m this year—it is clear there are significant financial drivers to the process.
“We hope that as the interim guide is reviewed over the coming months, it will become more robust and increasingly reflect the proven parameters in the international standard for honey.”