What is mānuka honey? Māori beekeepers "could have been making half a million"

By Raniera Harrison

This Moerewa beekeeper says that he hasn't seen any fruits of his hard graft - and the Government has a lot to answer for.

"I could have been making a half a million a year, we're way off that now you know", says the CEO of Ngabush Honey, Jim Ngawati.

A revised definition of what constitutes mānuka honey has cost Ngawati what he says is "hundreds of thousands of dollars".

It's a new scientific definition given by the Ministry of Primary Industries in 2017, and a Northland honey collective says Māori are the worst off under the new definition imposed by the Government.

The chair of Tai Tokerau Miere, Pita Tipene says "the laws and definitions that are coming out of the Government in Wellington are crippling the people of the North, especially those involved in honey."

Moerewa-based Ngabush Honey says that having high-quality mānuka honey worth up to $70/kg falsely declared by the Ministry of Primary Industries as non-mānuka by the definition makes the honey worth as little as $18/kg. 

"We've still got to get this definition sorted out, you know, some of this publicity might hurt the overseas market because it's... I don't know how they thought they got it right, and it's not right" says Ngawati, who has been involved in the mānuka honey industry for a decade now.

However, the Ministry for Primary Industries says the science definition for mānuka honey is essential to maintain New Zealand's premium position in overseas markets. Those overseeing beekeepers in Northland say the cost is huge.

Tipene, who met with MPI officials today in Whangārei, says that "$1b of the regional economy comes from honey - the cost to the Māori economy from this is $500m annually".

Those on the ground say they're being stung by financial losses, job losses and severe difficulties for most beekeepers and honey companies in the region.

"Some say it's all in the law of blending clover honey with mānuka, but to me it's fraud," says Ngawati, who employs three full-time staff.

Representatives from the Ministry of Primary Industries will head to Ōtiria Marae tomorrow to further discuss these issues.