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New Zealand's lucrative manuka honey export industry is under threat from a cheaper Scottish alternative that scientists say boasts even greater medicinal powers.
Heather honey, cultivated by bees buzzing around the Scottish Highlands, is even more effective than manuka honey when it comes to battling bacteria, a new UK study has found.
Researchers conclude that importing manuka from the other side of the world is "unnecessary" when local sources are available.
The thoroughly-researched manuka is the world's only medical grade honey.
Its anti-bacterial properties are widely used in veterinary medicine as a wound dressing.
But a Scottish researcher and equine surgeon, has just released findings of a study he launched to find out what other honey could be used as anti-bacterial wound dressings.
"Honey helps to promote healing, cleaning the wound and keeping it infection free," said Dr Patrick Pollock of University of Glasgow.
"Although Manuka has been the most studied honey source to date, other honey sources may have valuable antimicrobial properties too.
"If vets were able to use locally-sourced, cheaper honey as a wound dressing, it would be very beneficial, particularly in poorer countries."
Dr Pollock and his research team took 29 honey products, including commercial medical grade honeys, supermarket brands, and honeys from local bee-keepers, and examined them for bacterial contamination before testing.
Of the 29, 18 were found to contain bacteria that excluded them from the trial and the remaining 11 were tested against 10 equine bacterial isolates at concentrations varying from 2 per cent to 16 per cent.
Eight of the honeys were effective against all the bacteria at concentrations ranging from 2 per cent to 6 per cent, concluded the study, published in The Veterinary Journal.
Heather honey from the Inverness area in the north of Scotland was shown to be particularly effective - killing MRSA superbugs and three other types of bacteria at concentrations of 2 per cent.
"Honeys derived from one type of flower were shown to be the most effective, and while manuka is currently the only medical grade honey, the study reveals that other honeys may be just as suitable for such purposes," said Dr Pollock, himself a keen beekeeper.
"Consequently, it may prove unnecessary to transport manuka honey from New Zealand when more local sources may be as, or even more, effective."
Earlier this year, the UK's Food Standards Agency issued a warning about misleading and illegal claims made on the labels of manuka honey jars.
The New Zealand Government and the honey industry were urged to move quickly to set labelling guidelines for manuka honey and address the damage to the global brand.
Manuka honey commands prices 10 to 20 times higher than other types of honey because of its anti-bacterial properties.
It is estimated to earn this country as much as $120 million a year.
Honey has long been known for its anti-bacterial properties: it was prized by the ancient Egyptians and is widely used today in veterinary medicine as a wound dressing.
- By Kurt Bayer of APNZ