Lessons of a lawsuit: Trader Joe’s “Manuka Honey”

Murky rules for labeling Manuka Honey in the U.S. confuse and deceive consumers

Trader Joe’s won dismissal of a class action lawsuit alleging that honey sold at their stores labelled Manuka Honey wasn’t pure. Exploring the facts of the case, Judge Kandis A. Westmore ruled that it wasn’t a case of adulteration but that the honey wasn’t a monofloral Manuka, which is permitted in the U.S. (1) Monofloral honeys contain primarily honey derived from a single plant species.

Adulteration of honey is common primarily among imports from some Asian countries and, in general, involves the addition of corn syrup. Trader Joe’s was never accussed of selling adulterated honey, but the claim was that less than 60% of the honey was truly Manuka.  In the U.S. the Food and Drug Administration allows the naming of honey “with the name of the plant or blossom if you or the honey producer has information to support the conclusion that the plant or blossom designated on the label is the chief floral source of the honey.” In other words, it is legal to label a honey as Manuka with as little as 51% of the honey being truly derived from Manuka flowers.

In contrast to this notoriouly lax standard, the New Zealand standards for what can be labelled Manuka Honey are very high. Labeling a honey Monofloral Manuka requires four chemical tests and one DNA test for Manuka pollen. Although these requirements have resulted in higher production costs and have affected producers of lower quality honey (2), they provide confidence in the quality of Manuka produced in New Zealand (3). Our Natural Solutions honeys are in full compliance with the New Zealand standards for monofloral Manuka Honey.

Given the regulatory gap between New Zealand and the U.S., it is possible to import New Zealand honey that is just labeled plain “honey” and sell it in the U.S. as Manuka. Legal, yes, ethical, we don’t think so.

References

  1. Class action lawsuit dismissed
  2. Maori beekeepers hit hard by new purity rules
  3. Ministry of Primary Industries rules for Manuka Honey testing