Wednesday, September 4, 2013

[IMPORTANT] Manuka Honey Fraud

Hi everyone, this is not a review, obviously.

Today, I'm going to be writing about a manuka honey fraud that was reported in the UK's Sunday Times & New Zealand Herald on August 25, 2013 (Yes, I'm a bit late at this. Sorry.). You can read it here.

First, the articles. You can read the full article through the link, but I'm just going to paraphrase it below (it will be italicized):

According to the articles, manuka honey is currently in the middle of an international food fraud investigation, and there is quite a bit of evidence showing that much of what is being sold is fake. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) issued a nationwide warning to trading standards departments to ask them to watch out for honey that is labelled as 'manuka', but comes from different sources. 
The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), the Environment and Food Ministry, and other departments (including departments overseas) performed tests and found that much of the honey that is labelled as 'manuka' isn't any different from regular honey besides the price. Also, the main honey producers' organization in New Zealand, where almost all of the world's manuka honey comes from (the real honey, not the fake honey), did some research and found that about 1,700 tons of manuka is produced there per year, but 1,800 tons of "manuka" honey is sold in just the UK. About 10,000 tons are sold worldwide. So, you can see that the fraud seems to be quite widespread. John Rawcliffe of the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA), which represents the New Zealand producers, said, "There is potentially huge fraud. 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."

By now, some of you may wonder why it's so special, how it's produced, among some other things and I'm going to answer those questions right now.

How it's produced & why it's special:

Manuka honey is produced by bees who live in hives that are near flowering wild manuka bushes that grow mostly on New Zealand's North Island. Before 1981, manuka honey was considered a low-grade honey and was used in cattle feed, but then, a New Zealand scientist found that it had anti-microbial properties. 

Some more tests:

This anti-microbial property soon became a way of testing if the honey was true manuka honey, and in Oct. 2011, Fera tested 5 brands of manuka honey sold in the UK for the "non-peroxide" anti-microbial activity that genuine manuka honey has. The result of the test was that only 1 showed that property. They carried out more tests and found that out of 23 manuka-labelled honeys, 11 failed the test. After that, UMFHA performed more tests in 2012 & 2013 in Britain, China, and Singapore and out of 73 samples, 41 didn't show the non-peroxide activity. And in another test in Hong Kong, out of 55 samples, 14 had syrup added into it.

Benefits of manuka honey:

Sterilized manuka honey has been shown to help skin heal when used to dress your wounds, but there is no clinical evidence that eating it aids your health. Despite all of that, it is very popular, thanks to smart marketing and celebrities. 

How could this fraud happen?:

Because of the success manuka honey has had, many New Zealand honey farmers use helicopters to find the bushes and hurry to go put their hives there. There is a lot of competition for the best spots. Other plants also grow with manuka and bees also go to them too, so there really isn't a way to truly know how pure the manuka honey really is. "Such problems provide opportunities for fraudsters and undermine public trust in genuine producers. Patrick Robinson, chairman of the British Honey Importers and Packers Association and operations director at Rowse Honey, the UK's largest honey producer, agreed that manuka authenticity was a concern, 'Every batch of our honey is tested and labelled properly,' he said." Also, critics say that labeling is another part of the industry that is making problems for consumers.  There isn't an agreed standard, so there is at least four complex systems for describing the honey's anti-microbial potency which is quite confusing.

So, what can you do if you want to get some manuka honey?
Here are some tips from The New Zealand Honey Shop.
1. Not all Manuka Honey is the same!
2. Don't be confused by the number on the jar. It is more important to know what each company is really measuring.
3. 'TA' or 'total activity' based brands measure the hydrogen peroxide activity. That's common to all types of honey and isn't stable, so it could lessen while the jars are on the shelf.
4. The reputation or supporting research behind manuka honey is based on that special anti-bacterial property I talked about before.
5. A 'TA' honey can't really be compared to a genuine UMF® certified jar. They are different.
You can see more info here.

What is the UMF® certification/What is UMF®?
"[...] some manuka honey (and only some) also contains a non-peroxide antibacterial property, what has been named  the ‘unique manuka factor’ (UMF). It is the UMF that creates the special properties, including the extra antibacterial and antibiotic properties, that is found in only some manuka honey, as the UMF is not affected by the other enzymes, and is much more stable and active in a variety of conditions. To find the existence of UMF in manuka honey, it needs to be tested for its level of non-peroxide antibacterial activity. This test should be done by an independent laboratory for each batch of honey." (The New Zealand Honey Shop)

How do you know if they are UMF® certified?
1. It has the name UMF® clearly stated on the front label.
2. It is packed into jars and labelled in New Zealand.
3. It is from a New Zealand company licensed to use the name UMF.
4. It has the UMF licensee’s name on the front label.
5. It has a rating of UMF5 or more.

If you still want more information, click here to check out their pamphlet.
Feel free to contact me if the link doesn't work.

In case you just decided to skip down here (I know, I know, there's a lot to read), the main point is this.
There seems to be a huge fraud in selling genuine manuka honey worldwide currently. 
Most people that are buying manuka honey expect to receive something unique compared to other honeys. That something unique is the 'non-peroxide' anti-bacterial activity that the research behind manuka is based on. 
The 'peroxide' activity is common to all kinds of honey (including manuka), but it isn't stable, so it naturally disappears from the honey. 
If you really want to be sure that you are getting genuine manuka honey, check for the UMF® quality mark which rates the honey based on the level of non-peroxide activity. It checks for a lot more behind the scenes, such as how much the honey has been heated in processing, adulteration, etc. Genuine manuka honey doesn't have to have the UMF® mark, but it's a good indicator of quality.

I hope this was informative. Feel free to comment or contact me if anything doesn't make sense, or simply go to the links to see for yourself.
I have some reviews lined up, so look forward to that!

1 comment:

  1. very informative. thank you very much for the post. i am a true believer of manuka honey. i started off getting a brand (won't say it here) that listed only 'Active 16+' on its label. figured by now its probably not the real deal. make sure you get a brand that is a licensee. you can check that here:
    there's another rating besides UMF, called MGO that measures the level of methoglyoxal in Manuka. Only NZ Health carries that and it is a very good honey too.