Honey producers in sticky mess amidst warnings of fake Manuka

News Article

The reputation of Manuka honey has taken a hit recently, amidst allegations that only around one out of every five jars may contain the real thing.

Manuka honey, which commands a premium price of up to £45 a jar, due to its claims of being a superfood, has been under the spotlight following research into its authenticity.

Recent revelations are so damning that they have now prompted high-end London grocer, Fortnum & Mason to withdraw stocks of its own-brand Manuka from sale.

The problem has arisen because a number of unscrupulous suppliers have been mislabelling their honey as ‘Manuka’ in order to command a higher price. It has been estimated that New Zealand, which produces the majority of the world’s supply of Manuka has annual yields of only 1,700 tonnes per year and yet 10,000 tonnes of supposed Manuka are sold globally.

BJ Chong, a partner and IP expert with Palmers said: “The honey industry has a problem because the production figures do not seem to stack up. Somewhere along the line, a number of unscrupulous suppliers appear to have been illegally passing off other types of honey as Manuka, using the goodwill and reputation of genuine suppliers to con retailers and consumers alike.

“Labelled up as the genuine article, these suppliers seem to have been flooding the market and retailers appear to have been unwittingly caught up in the scam because of the apparent difficulties of checking the provenance of the honey.”

Until recently there has been no test available to differentiate Manuka from other types of honey. However, new research conducted by Fera, a privately-run UK science agency, has produced the world’s first test able to identify fake Manuka.

By analysing hundreds of genuine Manuka samples and a similar number of other honeys using mass spectrometry, scientists have been able to identify four compounds that can be used for inexpensive, accurate testing.

Scientists have already claimed that jars of Manuka sold by a number of well-known retailers, including Fortnum & Mason, Holland & Barrett and Amazon have failed the test.

Most of the retailers are standing by their products as being genuine but, as a precaution, Fortnum & Mason have cleared its shelves whilst it conducts its own investigations.

John Rawcliffe, of the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association, which represents New Zealand’s producers and which paid Fera to develop its test, said bona-fide Manuka farmers needed to protect their product.

BJ Chong, added: “It is early days for the Manuka honey producers but if they can make these tests stick, it could lead to a swarm of prosecutions against sellers of fake Manuka.”

For information on all aspects of IP law including litigation relating to issues involving the passing off of fake products, please contact us.