"We can't proceed": ACCC adulterated honey investigation into Capilano loses sting as testing methods found to be 'unreliable'

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) has ‘concluded’ its investigation into Capilano over purportedly adulterated honey being sold in Australia due to ‘testing uncertainty’. ©iStock
The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) has ‘concluded’ its investigation into Capilano over purportedly adulterated honey being sold in Australia due to ‘testing uncertainty’. ©iStock

Related tags Honey Capilano Adulteration Australia

The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) has 'concluded' its investigation into Capilano over purportedly adulterated honey being sold in Australia, due to 'testing uncertainty'.

According to the ACCC in an official statement, they ‘did not uncover any other evidence that supported the allegation Capilano’s ‘Allowrie’ honey was adulterated with sugar syrup’​ apart from the controversial Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) testing that first kicked off the investigation​.

“The investigation followed allegations in the media that a number of honey products [including Capilano] honey, labelled ‘pure’ and ‘100% honey’ were adulterated with sugar syrup,”​ they added.

“The allegations were based on results [from NMR testing, which] has only recently emerged as a testing method for honey adulteration.

“The ACCC is advised NMR testing is not yet reliable enough to determine whether honey is adulterated and therefore should not be used as a basis to support legal action.”

That said, ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh added: “During the course of our investigation however, it also became evident that there is low confidence in the current test method (the C4 test) used to detect adulterated honey.”

He mentioned that no alternative testing method has yet been developed ‘to the point they can be used with sufficient confidence’​.

Speaking to Fairfax Media​, Keogh also said: “On those two bases, we made the decision we can’t proceed any further with this matter.”

He added that ACCC had not performed any of its own tests as ‘there was not any point’ ​given that no reliable testing methods were available.

No way to prove whether or not honey is fake

The C4 test has been in use since 2015 by the Australian Department of Agriculture.

With both this and NMR out of the picture, what this essentially means is that there is currently no test available that can prove honey is or is not fake.

C4 testing did not detect any form of fraud or adulteration in the Capilano Allowrie honey back when the allegations first came to light.

“The ACCC understands that where there are different tests for honey products that produce different results, it can cause significant frustration among consumers and industry,”​ said Keogh via the official ACCC statement.

"[The] fact that there isn’t confidence in the testing methods​and continuing debate, ​leads us to the view that the government, [and the industry] more particularly should be making a much stronger effort to get to an agreed testing standard.

“We understand the Department of Agriculture, which is best placed to determine the most appropriate form of honey testing, is reviewing testing standards.”

Capilano previously also raised doubts about the dependability of the NMR testing method.

In a statement, Dr Ben McKee, Capilano Managing Director, said: “There is no consensus view from across the industry about the reliability of the NMR test.”

“NMR tests are conducted at European laboratories and the method’s essential flaw is the reliance on a database of reference honeys, and the database is underrepresented for honeys from our region.

“It is essential for consumers to have confidence in that they are buying 100% pure honey. We cannot have one test saying one thing and another saying honey is 100% pure. That is where we find ourselves today.”

Bega sells stake in Capilano

Meanwhile, Bega Cheese recently confirmed that it will be letting go of its share in Capilano.

In an announcement to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), Bega said that it would vote in favour of selling its 15.6% stake in Capilano to Chinese-focused consortium Bravo BidCo Pty Ltd.

“[In] the absence of a superior proposal, Bega Cheese intends to vote in favour of the Capilano scheme of arrangement under which Bravo BidCo Pty Ltd  will acquire 100% of the shares in Capilano,”​ it said.

Bravo BidCo is a company owned by HoldCo, which is indirectly owned by Wattle Hill RHC and ROC Capital. Wattle Hill RHC specialises in the navigation of the Chinese market for Australian companies and/or products.

Bega Cheese is currently the second largest stakeholder in Capilano.

Earlier this year, Bega Cheese was rumoured to be planning to take over Capilano completely​ after buying over 255,000 of its shares for a total of A$5.38mn (US$3.9mn).

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