MELBOURNE (REUTERS) - A New Zealand company pleaded guilty on Thursday (April 18) to charges of adding artificial chemicals to its premium manuka honey, media reported, in a flagship prosecution over a product that is a high-value export for the country.
New Zealand Food Safety filed the case against Auckland-based Evergreen Life Ltd, whose products were pulled from shelves in 2016 by the Ministry for Primary Industries, which said they might contain "non-approved substances".
Singapore also recalled the manuka honey products in February 2016, as Singapore’s food regulations do not allow additives to be added to honey.
While there was no food safety risk, consumers were advised not to consume the affected products and to discard them.
Demand for honey, which is believed to have health and cosmetics benefits, has been growing globally, especially for manuka honey, collected from the flowers of plants native to New Zealand and Australia.
Different species of the plant grow in other parts of the world, but they do not produce the flowers needed for the honey, making manuka more expensive, with a small jar selling for up to a few hundred dollars.
Manuka is also considered to have better anti-bacterial properties than other honey, partly because it naturally contains an omega acid called DHA and an antacid known as MGO.
Evergreen had been allegedly adding synthetic chemicals to increase the levels of the anti-bacterial agents, allowing the company to sell the honey at a higher price, according to the public service Radio New Zealand.
Neither Evergreen nor the Ministry for Primary Industries answered requests for comment.
New Zealand ranks 14th in the world for volume of honey exported and second in terms of value, according to data from New Zealand's Trade and Enterprise government agency.
In 2017, New Zealand exported nearly US$270 million (S$365.88 million) worth of honey, nearly double what it was in 2013.
Manuka honey is considered behind most of the exports.
Sentencing in the Evergreen case is scheduled for later this month.