Evergreen Manuka Honey Ban & Recall – What’s Going On?

The headlines are now screaming – Manuka honey banned! Manuka honey recalled! But that’s really just hyperbole.

The fact is only the Evergreen Manuka Honey products have been recalled by the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and banned by the Malaysian Ministry of Health (MoH) as well as the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

Evergreen Manuka Honey Ban & Recall - What's Going On?

All you Manuka honey lovers can rest easy. The other brands are not affected. Then again, Manuka honey is notorious for being easy to adulterate. But let’s find out what has just happened with the Manuka honey sold by Evergreen Life Ltd.

 

What Manuka Honey Products Were Recalled / Banned?

On the 26th of February 2016, the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) ordered a recall for these Evergreen Manuka honey products  :

  • Evergreen Manuka Blended Methyl Glyoxal Level 30+ (including product labelled as MGO 30+ mg/kg)
  • Evergreen Manuka New Zealand Honey MGO 30+ mg/kg (including product labelled as 100% Pure New Zealand Honey Methyl Glyoxal Level 30+)
  • Evergreen Manuka New Zealand Honey MGO 80+ mg/kg (including product labelled as 100% Pure New Zealand Honey Methyl Glyoxal Level 80+)
  • Evergreen Manuka New Zealand Honey MGO 100+ mg/kg (including product labelled as 100% Pure New Zealand Honey Methyl Glyoxal Level 100+)
  • Evergreen Manuka New Zealand Honey MGO 150+ mg/kg (including product labelled as 100% Pure New Zealand Honey Methyl Glyoxal Level 150+)
  • Evergreen Manuka New Zealand Honey MGO 200+ mg/kg (including product labelled as 100% Pure New Zealand Honey Methyl Glyoxal Level 200+)
  • Evergreen Manuka New Zealand Honey MGO 350+ mg/kg (including product labelled as 100% Pure New Zealand Honey Methyl Glyoxal Level 350+)
  • Evergreen Manuka New Zealand Honey MGO 600+ mg/kg (including product labelled as 100% Pure New Zealand Honey Methyl Glyoxal Level 600+)
  • Evergreen Manuka New Zealand Honey MGO 890+ mg/kg (including product labelled as 100% Pure New Zealand Honey Methyl Glyoxal Level 890+)
  • Evergreen Deer Horn & Active Manuka Methyl Glyoxal Level 100+ (including product labelled as MGO 100+ mg/kg)
  • Evergreen Deer Horn & Active Manuka MGO 350+ (including product labelled as Methyl Glyoxal Level 350+ or MGO 350+mg/kg)
  • Evergreen Manuka 100% Pure New Zealand Honey Total Activity 5+
  • Evergreen Manuka 100% Pure New Zealand Honey Total Activity 7+
  • Evergreen Manuka 100% Pure New Zealand Honey Total Activity 12+
  • Evergreen Manuka 100% Pure New Zealand Honey Total Activity 15+
  • Evergreen Manuka 100% Pure New Zealand Honey Total Activity 20+
  • Evergreen Manuka with Pine Bark & Royal Jelly MGO 150+ mg/kg (including product labelled as Methyl Glyoxal Level 150+)
  • Evergreen Manuka with Royal Jelly & Kiwi fruit Total Activity 15+ (including product with a yellow coloured label with the same wording)

 

Why Were They Recalled / Banned?

The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) was very discreet about the reason for the recall, probably to protect their honey industry :

There is information to suggest non-approved substances, dihydroxyacetone and methylglyoxal, may have been used during the processing of the honey. There is no food safety risk associated with the recalled products.

The two substances sound dangerous, don’t they? Why else would they recall the Manuka honey? Yet why are they claiming that there is no food safety risk? Are they lying? Let’s find out…

 

What Is Methylglyoxyl?

Methyglyoxyl sure is a mouthful to pronounce, isn’t it? But if you are really into Manuka honey, you would already know what it is. After all, methylglyoxyl is the reason why you pay top dollar for Manuka honey. It is, literally, the active ingredient that imparts Manuka honey with its “vaunted” antibacterial activity.

The Manuka honey industry has coalesced around the UMF and MGO ratings. They both attempt to regulate and grade Manuka honey according to the concentration of methylglyoxyl in the Manuka honey.

The MGO (MethylGlyOxal) rating is straightforward – it’s based on the concentration in mg / kg :

  • 100 mg/kg = MGO 100+
  • 200 mg/kg = MGO 200+
  • 400 mg/kg = MGO 400+

The more famous UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) rating is far less straightforward :

  • ≥83 mg/kg = UMF 5+
  • ≥263 mg/kg = UMF 10+
  • ≥514 mg/kg = UMF 15+
  • ≥573 mg/kg = UMF 16+
  • ≥696 mg/kg = UMF 18+
  • ≥829 mg/kg = UMF 20+
  • ≥1200 mg/kg = UMF 25+
  • ≥1449 mg/kg = UMF 28+

At least, that is what the marketing claims…

A 2011 study by Kwakman PHS, et al showed that even after methylglyoxyl was neutralised in the test samples, the honey continued to exhibit (slightly reduced) antibacterial abilities. In other words, methylglyoxyl has antibacterial properties, but is not the main contributor to the honey’s antibacterial activity.

 

What Is Dihydroxyacetone?

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is a precursor of methylglyoxyl (MGO). In other words, DHA is a chemical that breaks down into MGO.

Freshly harvested Manuka honey will have high levels of DHA, and relatively low levels of MGO. Over time (roughly 3-4 years if stored at 22°C), the DHA breaks down into MGO.

 

The Real Reason For The Recall / Ban

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and methylglyoxyl (MGO) are both present naturally in Manuka honey. So why did New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) order a recall?

Food Fraud

Although both DHA and MGO are naturally present in Manuka honey, they are not supposed to be added to the Manuka honey to boost its MGO or UMF rating. That is what is known as food fraud.

Evergreen Manuka Honey Ban & Recall - What's Going On?

The Manuka honey industry has received quite a number of brickbats in the past, when it was discovered that Manuka honey was mislabelled with false ratings, or adulterated with Kanuka honey. In fact, it was once revealed that there are 3X more Manuka honey being sold all over the world than were produced in New Zealand!

As such, it is in New Zealand’s interest to clamp down on food fraud lest it destroys the lucrative Manuka honey industry. We therefore applaud them for ordering the recall.

 

There Is No Health Risk

The artificial dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and methylglyoxyl (MGO) additives added to the Manuka honey are chemically no different from the DHA and MGO already present in the Manuka honey. So the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is correct that there is “no food safety risk associated with the recalled products“.

 

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