One of New Zealand`s top honey exporters has identified a potential problem with several batches of high value Manuka honey.

Timaru-based Honey Valley is one of New Zealand`s major Manuka honey exporters. In November last year the company purchased a quantity of Manuka honey from a beekeeping supplier. “The honey comes from hives with very high unique Manuka antibacterial activity. All honey processed by Honey Valley undergoes “very strict pre-processing checking and testing”, says company Managing Director, Steve Lyttle.

“These batches of honey displayed slightly abnormal C4 sugar levels (cane sugar) when pre-processing testing was carried out. My production team set honey aside and we took core samples from the various batches and sent them to the world’s top honey quality testing laboratory: Intertek in Germany. The results came back suggesting slightly unnatural levels of cane sugar and I advised the NZ Food Safety Authority. They looked at the analyses and placed a hold on the honey subject to the results of their own investigation,” says Lyttle.

 “It’s important to note that the Manuka honey had also been tested for its UMF activity rating by NZ laboratories in Hamilton. The honey has very good UMF activity. So the issue isn’t about the honey’s UMF Manuka antibacterial activity but about the abnormal presence of cane sugar,” says Lyttle.

 “None of us should jump to any conclusions about the tests until the honey’s integrity has been checked by NZFSA investigation. Contrary to earlier reports I need to emphasize that the honey is still in bulk containers, has not been processed and the honey has not been seized. We have however been directed by the NZ Food Safety Authority not to process or move the honey until their investigations have been completed. This is normal procedure in these circumstances when operating a Risk Management Program under the Animal Products Act,” says Lyttle.

 “Honey testing laboratories have problems using the conventional sugarcane test with Manuka honey. That’s because the high and variable protein level in Manuka honey can distort the C4 sugar test,” “It could simply be a testing problem but our company’s policy is to play it safe and we are ultraconservative with our testing approach. I expect the NZFSA to complete its investigation over the next few weeks and we’ll know if the honey is OK to sell or not,” says Lyttle.

 NZFSA Assistant Director Justin Rowlands says that their investigation is solely about the honey composition and there is no food safety issue. The honey was brought to the agency’s attention by Honey Valley, who was about to process the honey for sale.

 Steve Lyttle is one of founding organisers of a special manuka honey industry group setting standards for Manuka honey. His own company exports UMF manuka honey to 15 countries around the world.

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