Counterfeiting in the Primary Industry Sector and the Threat to New Zealand’s Economy

Authors: Ball, R. & Quirke, S.
Published in National Security Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 2019

This notwithstanding, and despite instances of counterfeiting in recent years, the industry claims it has not suffered significantly from such activity.52

Mānuka Honey

A combination of five attributes, (four chemical and one DNA marker) are used to identify New Zealand Mānuka honey from other types, and while more than 15 floral types of honey are produced commercially in this country, it is a unique series of therapeutic properties against a number of ailments that supposedly make the Mānuka product such a premium sought-after commodity, and one vulnerable to counterfeit exploitation.53 The Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association (UMF), a trade organisation that represents 109 members, advised that 2,500 tonnes of Mānuka honey was exported in 2016 at a value of NZ$215 million, yet up to four times this amount is believed to be sold globally, indicating ‘Adulterated’, ‘Tampered’ and/or ‘Simulated’ counterfeit activity is rampant.54 The quality of some Mānuka products was questioned in the UK, in 2014, with reports of Mānuka honey being available in the markets well in excess of official New Zealand export figures. Such media attention placed pressure on New Zealand producers and regulators to define ‘Mānuka honey’ and to provide “an accurate product-testing standard, amid concerns of quality, counterfeiting and consumer confusion.”55 Subsequent independent testing found the properties of some of these New Zealand products contained much lower levels of attributes than would be expected of the product, and resulted in ‘High Street’ department stores, some of whom sold Mānuka honey product at NZ$480 per kilogram, ultimately withdrawing them from their shelves.56

New Zealand exports much of its honey in bulk, under the general category of ‘Pure Honey,’ making the product open to exploitation. This provides counterfeiters with the opportunity to classify honey as Mānuka, or grade it incorrectly, mislabel the honey or blend it with lesser premium grade product. Of further and significant concern to the industry is that “off the shelf ” synthetic products when added to some varieties of honey, can chemically transform inferior products to appear as being Mānuka honey ones. An example of this presented itself in June 2019 when a local company and its owner were fined in excess of NZ$370,000 for secretly adding synthetic substances to 14 tonnes of its honey so it could be sold at a higher price. The offending took place over a 16-month period beginning in 2016. MPI was only alerted to the activity thanks to a whistle-blower.57 However, should this ‘Adulterated’ counterfeiting technique become common knowledge, there is a real fear that the local Mānuka industry could quite simply cease to exist. The industry also faces additional ‘Simulated’ counterfeiting challenges with Mānuka plants being grown in Australia and Portugal. Other regions cultivating the plant include China, South America, and the UK.58 Mānuka Honey accounted for 68% of the total honey export revenue of NZ$314 million in 2016.59 The product is currently being counterfeited globally, particularly in Europe where blending operations