Sunday, 26 March 2017

Manuka Honey Fraud

What is manuka honey fraud? Is there fraud that is technically legal? How do we stop manuka honey fraud?

I think the answers are 'complicated', yes, and 'that is the million dollar question that MPI is trying to fix' - see last week's post on the New manuka honey regulations.

To me, simplistically, manuka honey fraud is when honey sellers, either in NZ, or (I would guess more likely) overseas, take honey that is only slightly manuka and try to pass it off as good grade manuka.

There are several ways this might happen:

False labeling

The easiest I suppose, is just to make false claims on the label. So say the honey is manuka UMF 2. Well, how about calling it UMF 8+ on the label then? Or MGO something huge. Or even NPA something large, although this is not so well known as a label. Check out the previous post for what these 3 letter words all mean.

But this is quite easy to catch, you would only need to do a test of the honey to realise it is not what it is claiming to be.

Doctoring the honey

Well then, what about adding chemicals to the honey that mimic the natural honey chemicals that produce say a UMF reading of 8+? Then if a spot check was performed on the honey, it would pass muster.

Out and out crookery of course.

Legal mislabeling?

This one has just crossed my radar recently - what if you were to label honey technically truthfully, but still indulge in misleading advertising by implication? That's a lot greyer now isn't it?

For a bit of background, we need an understanding of honey qualities. See this post on the medicinal benefits of honey first.

The short version is that all honey has some pretty amazing properties. And one of those properties is hydrogen peroxide. All honey has hydrogen peroxide in varying degrees. And hydrogen peroxide helps heal wounds.

So if you have been confused about how the ancient Egyptians used honey to heal (and they did) but that manuka honey has only ever existed since the Europeans brought honey bees to NZ around mid 19th century (and no, it's never been an ancient Maori remedy), then this is the answer. The healing properties of Egyptian honey came partly from hydrogen peroxide.

And you could describe the measure of hydrogen peroxide activity in honey as 'Active 10+' or whatever number it comes out to.

But the special thing with manuka honey is the MGO, also kind-of known (it gets a bit complicated science-y here) as NPA, which is ...ta dah... NON-Peroxide Activity. So to qualify for the high status, high price as manuka honey, it needs to have Non-peroxide activity. Exactly NOT plain 'active'.

So you see where we are going here - who's seen honey that is labelled as 'Active 10+' and selling for a truck load of $, but has no mention of UMF or MGO? It's probably even slightly manuka, so it can be truthfully called 'Manuka active 10+' too. Otherwise that would be false labeling wouldn't it?

But it is not anywhere near Manuka UMF 10+. Which is very good, strong manuka honey. Worth a lot of money.

And what's more, I've done a little sample with a friend in California, with the manuka honey available in her local wholefoods shop, and half the samples were just 'Active'. Only a couple were properly labeled UMF or MGO. Not all the honey was in jars with NZ brands on the front either, so probably has been packaged somewhere other than NZ. And as an aside, it all was WAY CHEAPER than any manuka honey available to me to buy here in NZ. What's up with that?

How to catch manuka honey fraud

This is, of course, the million dollar question.

The UMF association has a standard that they are trying to promote, to label manuka honey with some quality assurance. UMF stands for Unique Manuka Factor, so that should rule out pretend honey you would hope.

They are currently involved in a big public awareness campaign in the UK.

And MPI are involved in rewriting the manuka honey standards too. Which we are all awaiting with bated breath (or not) to see what this will mean to the industry, and our personal honey harvests.

Quite a tricky situation, all and all. Fingers crossed for a good outcome.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

New Manuka Honey Rules

MPI (Ministry of Primary Industries) is re-jigging the definition of manuka honey.

Word on the street is that there will be a 'discussion document' released in April 2017, and the final documentation will become law in June or July 2017.

Here's the official link MPI Honey Review.

But that doesn't tell us much.

The manuka honey problem

The problem that MPI are trying to solve is how do you tell manuka honey from other honey, what is just 'nearly manuka' rather than full blown manuka, and how do you detect (and stop) honey fraud. Oh, that's 3 problems. There's probably a few other permutations too. So you see the problem.

This is A HARD problem.

And...they need a test, or tests, that are easy to do anywhere. So if you have some honey land at say Fortnam and Masons, they might want to verify that it is the real deal.

Add to that, there have been several different versions of measuring manuka-ness of honey.

Current ways to grade manuka honey

There are several factors that are measured with manuka honey:

1. MGO

MGO is methyl glyoxal, which is a long lasting antibacterial enzyme, that's not known to occur in any other honey in the world.

All honeys contain hydrogen peroxide, which gives them antibiotic properties, but MGO gives manuka honey antibacterial properties as well.

What's the difference in antibacterial and antibiotic? Google reveals this"
"Antibiotics are a broader range of antimicrobial compounds which can act on fungi, bacteria, and other compounds. Although antibacterials come under antibiotics, antibacterials can kill only bacteria."

2. UMF

UMF is Unique Manuka Factor. Overseen by the UMF Honey Association UMF factor is a measure of leptosperin, DHA and MGO.

3. DHA

(don't you love all these 3 letter words?)

DHA is dihydroxyacetone. Which is present in the nectar of manuka flowers. Manuka honey starts out with high DHA and low MGO. Over time DHA in the honey interacts with various naturally-occurring proteins and amino acids and creates MGO. So manuka honey matures, and reaches peak maturity at about 18 months age.

4. Molan Gold Standard

Named after the pioneer of manuka honey research, Professor Peter Molan MBE, this internationally recognized standard certifies authentic manuka honey. Check out

5. NPA

This is Non-Peroxide Activity of honey. A bit similar to UMF. But not quite. Check out Apiculture NZ's take on it. And if you want to know what non-peroxide activity is, have a read of this post.

6. Medical grade manuka honey

Medical grade manuka honey is used topically to treat wounds and ulcers, in medical situations.

To be medical grade honey, it seems (although I can't find the 'bible' on this, and I have looked heartily) it needs to be (I think) UMF 9.5+, microbe level < 500 somethings, and moisture < 20. Plus a range of tests for contaminants - these need to be below the relevant thresholds, so hygiene and straining for impurities and such comes into play. Might be other things as well.

Why the confusion?

None of these tests quite covers the fraud issue. Read here for more on manuka honey fraud.

How exactly do you tell that manuka honey is the real deal, and not just normal honey with a few chemicals added, to mimic some of these tests?

One way is to look for leptospermum pollen markers. Another might be DNA tests. Who knows? The scientists do, I guess, I'm just making stabs in the dark here, based on the local industry gossip.

We'll find out soon enough.

What is it going to mean for beekeepers?

The street story is that the new regulations will mean that anything labelled 'manuka honey' will need to be 10+. 10+ what is the question of course.

But, let's say equivalent to 10+ UMF, or NPA - now that is a pretty high standard.

So what does this mean to the ordinary beekeeper (OK, I know none of you are 'ordinary').

Well, maybe it means that a lot of so-called manuka honey that is being produced now, is going to fail. And only the beeks with large manuka holdings, or access to large manuka holdings, will benefit from the manuka honey craze. And those beeks are likely to be the bigger guys and gals.

So if you are making 'only-just' manuka honey, what is your strategy going to be?

And just in case one of your strategies is 'Plant More Manuka', check out the resources available for growing and planting manuka - Free How-to for seeds, E-courses for everything to do with establishing a manuka forest.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

When to plant manuka trees

If you've been busy making manuka seedlings, you might have something that looks like this in your backyard.

I did too, but that was last year, and now mine are a lot bigger, and suffering a bit, as I discussed in this blog post.

So if you are wondering when is the right time to plant them, I think the answer might be now.

Normally I'd have said wait a bit. Still lots of the summer to go, and it can be hot and dry for a good couple of months more.

But this year? It's not looking at all like being consistently hot and dry. If it does stay cool-ish and moist-ish the trees will love it - so much time to put down roots before next summer.

And the bees have packed up shop mostly, and I'd say they know a thing or 2 about the weather. Just don't quote me to the weather department.

If you haven't started on your seeds yet, and would like to know how, check out this free Pictorial Guide to Growing Manuka from Seeds.

And if you'd like to know where to plant your trees, Module 3: Choosing your Forestry Spot will tell you what you need to know.