Misleading mānuka: US brands found to sell inauthentic specialty honey
03 Mar 2023 --- Scientific testing on US and UK honey products claiming to be mānuka has found 100% of the 46 brands are not from New Zealand. Furthermore, according to the country’s export standards, all analyzed products “missed key indicators of genuine mānuka honey,” explains the Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA).
Mānuka honey is produced by bees pollinating New Zealand’s and Australia’s Leptospermum scoparium or mānuka bush.
“Mānuka honey comes exclusively from New Zealand and is truly the gold standard against which other honeys are compared,” says John Rawcliffe, CEO of the UMFHA.
“At UMFHA, we want to give consumers the confidence that when they see a honey product with the UMF quality mark and rating, they know they are getting the goodness and health support of genuine New Zealand mānuka honey, produced, packed and sealed for purity at its origin in New Zealand,” he continues.
The benefits of the honey, according to the UMFHA, include helping with wound healing, sore throats, gut health, lung health, antibiotic resistance, skin health and alleviating chemotherapy side effects, among others.
Missing the mānuka mark
The UMFHA used a certified independent laboratory to sample mānuka brands originating from outside New Zealand and sold in the US and UK by online retailers.
“The results found that every one of these products failed to meet New Zealand regulatory criteria for authentic mānuka honey,” according to the body.
Of the brands tested, 100% failed the test – meaning they didn’t come from the bush. All of them also didn’t have the key MPI1 markers, with four out of five products not having any Leptospermum scoparium DNA.
Furthermore, 82% failed the CODEX quality requirement of <40mg/kg HMF, 60% the 4-HPLA tests and 30% the potency label claim.
The UMFHA implemented a certification with four factors for honey to meet its quality standard.
The first one is having leptosperin, produced only by the mānuka bush, which enters the bloodstream when consumed and has anti-inflammatory properties. The honey also needs to have methylglyoxal – which has antibacterial properties –, DHA – precursor of MGO – and HMF – which indicates if the product has been overheated or stored too long to retain the expected benefits.
“In addition to the UMF quality mark, the honey must also have “Product of New Zealand” on its label to ensure it was packed and sealed in New Zealand, free from additives,” explains the organization.
The UMFHA explains consumer awareness on identifying genuine, quality mānuka honey continues to be the biggest roadblock in the sector toward educating the public.
“While 98% of Americans surveyed specifically buy mānuka honey for its natural health benefits or consider it a bonus, they also largely take their purchases at face value, with over two-thirds (69%) believing the products they purchase from a reputable retailer are as advertised and 100% legitimate,” says the body.
“The incorrectly labeled products of honeys not from New Zealand are therefore misleading consumers who are purchasing the products for their intended health benefits, but not receiving them,” concludes the organization.
EU customers will be able to buy cheaper mānuka honey, as tariffs on the product will be removed over the next three years with the EU-NZ 2022 free trade deal.
By Marc Cervera
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