The buzz about adulterated honey products imported from overseas markets has died down since its peak at the beginning of the month, but Tasmanian honey producers have used the attention to remind consumers to buy local.
Launceston beekeeper and Tasmanian Beekeeping Association president Lindsay Bourke said the state’s honey producers were concerned their product would be tainted and their customers would stop buying from them.
While he admits his bias, Mr Bourke considers Tasmanian honey to be the best.
“Seventy per cent of Tasmanian honey is produced in rainforest, which is the most beautiful place in the world,” he said.
However, Mr Bourke also recognises the need for honey products at different price points.
“We don’t want to stop honey coming from overseas, because it’s a free world,” he said.
Mr Bourke recently travelled to Victoria for the Fine Food Australia 2018 event and said he had to answer questions about the purity of his honey, instead of making sales.
“Most people were asking if it was pure honey. We shouldn’t have to be talking about that,” Mr Bourke said.
“It arrests sales for a while, but Tasmania has a very good name for our produce so we’ll trade out of it.”
“But I also heard there was plenty of the mainland honey in supermarkets, but no local honey, so people are concerned enough to buy local,” he said.
Seventy per cent of Tasmanian honey is produced in rainforest, which is the most beautiful place in the world. If we get manuka and leatherwood honey from that place, they contain long-chain sugars. There are plenty of spreads that contain sucrose, with short-chain sugars, but it’s not the same as honey.Lindsay Bourke
The issue for Tasmanian honey producers came about when it was alleged that Capilano was selling “fake honey”, or mixes of Australian and imported honey blended with sugar, rice and beet syrups.
The federal Agriculture and Water Resources department tests imported honey using an internationally recognised C4 sugar analysis, which detects if certain sugars have been added.
This includes C4 sugars, such as sugar cane or corn syrup.
However, the department has also been looking at other analytical methods to test imported honey, including Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), which will “significantly improve the department’s testing” because it can detect C3 sugars, such as sugar beet syrup, the department said in a statement.
“Australia does not have a laboratory capable of performing NMR analysis,” the statement said.
“This is because there is currently no internationally accepted database to support NMR analysis, nor the expertise required to interpret the results for regulatory purposes.
“In short, NMR testing is not yet able to be used in Australia as a reliable testing tool on its own for regulatory purposes.”
Capilano’s Allowrie brand, which states it is “quality guaranteed 100% pure honey” on its website, was at the centre of the fake honey storm, but the honey packer and marketer said it found “NMR results to be inconsistent between batches and different laboratories assessing the same sample”.
“While we have full confidence that Allowrie Honey contains only pure honey, we also recognise that there is no consensus view from across the industry about the reliability of the NMR test that has led to the reports in the media,” Capilano managing director Dr Ben McKee said.
“We call on the industry to work to prove up the NMR test so that it matches the robustness of results from other testing currently relied on internationally,” he said.
Mr Bourke said the practice of blending Australian and imported honey had happened for years, but he expected Capilano would be eager to clear its name.
“It’s a blot on their good name. I’m sure they don’t want to get caught again so they’ll be embracing the new technology,” he said.
“The fraudsters are getting smarter, which makes it harder to find. Capilano will just have to use more sophisticated detection systems if they are going to use cheaper honey,” Mr Bourke said.
The Australian Honey Bee Industry Council has beekeeper and honey packers and marketers members.
Council chairman Peter McDonald issued a statement in the wake of the fake honey allegations that said the issue was about imported honey, not the Australian product.
“Australian honey is safe and not under question. Australian honey should be trusted,” Mr McDonald said.
The council asked the Australian government to start using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance testing for imported honey in July “as one of the best available methods of testing”.
“Since that time AHBIC has become aware of questions about the veracity of the NMR testing on its own as an appropriate testing regime and is continuing discussions with government as to what is the most effective and reliable suite of testing measures that need to be used to identify adulterated honey,” Mr McDonald said.
Free trade and competition aside, beekeepers see this as an opportunity for honey lovers to support Australian producers.
“It is essential at a time like this that the public gets behind Australian beekeepers and companies who provide a reliable and quality honey product,” Mr McDonald said.
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