Honey pioneer sets 'gold standard' for manuka products

The pioneering researcher who spent decades researching honey and other natural antibiotics, biochemist Peter Molan, has developed his own "gold standard" for measuring biological activity in manuka honey.

Professor Molan, from Waikato University's honey research unit, spent years providing the scientific underpinnings for New Zealand's valuable export trade in anti-bacterial manuka honey.

Manuka honey has proven effective against major wound-infecting bacteria and the bacteria which causes stomach ulcers.

But late last year the researcher threw up his hands over industry infighting about how biologically active manuka honey should be measured and ranked.

Prof Molan told honey companies in a personal email that he would no longer have anything to do with the Active Manuka Honey Association (AMHA), which had 48 members, with 32 licensed to use its trademarked unique manuka factor (UMF) ratings.

The AMHA was created only after Prof Molan was asked by Government trade officials to help set up an industry group for producers of active manuka honey.

And the UMF testing on which it relies uses a method described by Dr Molan and other honey researchers at Waikato University in 1991 to underpin domestic and export manuka honey markets worth more than $100 million a year.

UMF ratings are based on measurement of the antibacterial activity of samples of honey to indicate how well it fights a wide range of very resistant bacteria.

Separately, the association has been caught up with another company, Manuka Health NZ Ltd, which acquired research from overseas to argue objective measurement of the active ingredient methylglyoxal might be the best way to measure anti-bacterial strength.

Manuka Health has said the results of UMF testing can be changed by heating honey, and that differences of up to $2000 in payment for a 300kg drum of honey had led to conflict between beekeepers and honey producers.

Dr Molan - who has said methylglyoxal is not a reliable indicator of anti-microbial activity - has instead produced new research into the nature of the antibacterial substances and why testing of some manuka honey indicated only partial inhibition of bacteria.

Scientists are now able to reliably measure activity in manuka honey in a way which will show the true full antibacterial activity, and the intellectual property involved is controlled by Waikato University.

Prof Molan said care was needed in marketing anti-microbial manuka honey.

"Not all manuka honeys have true medicinal bioactivity beyond the range that's normal of all honeys, and the industry is exposed if it does not make the distinction clear," he said.

Several manuka honeys labelled as "active" in combination with a number had little or none of the non-peroxide activity that was the key to its distinctive antibacterial qualities.

Active manuka honey can sell for about $65 for a 250gm jar in countries such as Britain.

Now Waikato University is providing manuka honey marketers with its new international standard to allowing trademarking of authenticated medicinal honeys.

A commercial manager for the university, Fraser Smith, said the name Molan Gold Standard was linked with the honesty and integrity of Prof Molan.

"Professor Molan has agreed to put his name to honeys that meet his own ethical and scientific standards," he said.

The antibacterial activity of manuka honey could be use against the antibiotic-resistant bacteria now becoming a major problem in hospital "superbugs" .

It was effective against subcutaneous infections, such as acne and sinusitis, and methods had also been developed for measuring antioxidant content relevant to digestive health and anti-inflammatory properties.


Add a Comment







Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter