The Food Standards Agency (FSA) issued the alert after testing carried out by the Food Environment Research Agency (Fera) revealed that many of the honey products labelled as manuka were no such thing.
John Rawcliffe of the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA), which represents New Zealand's producers, told The Australian that this alert is connected to a potentially huge fraud.
Maths don't add up
“There are higher and ever-increasing volumes of honey labelled as manuka that are not manuka. More manuka is sold in the UK alone than the total actually produced. The same applies to China, America and so on,” he said.
According to industry data, New Zealand produces 1,700 tons each year, while consumption data reveals that an estimated 10,000 tons is sold worldwide annually—of which 1,800 tons is sold in Britain.
Manuka, a native New Zealand honey, came to prominence in the late ‘Eighties when research by Prof. Peter Molan of the University of Waikato demonstrated its potent antibacterial effect. This activity subsequently became known as the “unique manuka factor”.
Both domestic and international demand for the honey has skyrocketed over the past decade, but despite demand, its supply has remained constrained.
Fera, which operates under Defra, the UK’s environment and food ministry, has been the official certification and testing partner of the UMFHA. According to The Australian, the UMFHA commissioned Fera to conduct tests between 2012 and 2013 on manuka products distributed around the world.
Of the 73 samples tested, 41 displayed no non-peroxide activity, which is a unique and genuine attribute of manuka honey. Further tests in Hong Kong found that 14 of out 55 manuka honeys tested were adulterated with syrup.
New Zealand’s producers are not sitting back when it comes to protecting their unique product and are looking to more scientific ways of combating manuka fraud.
Last year, a team of Kiwi scientists reported that they had identified a unique marker molecule in manuka honey, which is believed to be associated with the honey’s antibacterial activity.
“An archetypal mother molecule specific to manuka honey was identified that may serve as a precursor store for free 3,4,5trimethoxybenzoic acid [a major bioactive substance in manuka honey] and provide a means of fingerprinting manuka honeys,” said the team from the School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, in the Journal of Food Chemistry.