Manuka Honey Madness: a Tale of Sabotage, Theft, & Food Fraud


The world’s #1 ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic starts each day with it. Actress Scarlett Johansson attributes her beautiful skin to it.

Millions of people buy it to ward off disease and illness, including cancer and antibiotic resistant bacteria. What is this miracle superfood?

It’s manuka honey.

Honey has been used medicinally both internally and externally for 5,000 years. All unprocessed honey contains antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, and antiseptic properties.

But manuka honey stands out above the rest. This unique honey is produced by bees that harvest pollen from the manuka tree (Leptospermum scoparium) which grows wild throughout New Zealand and parts of Australia. This plant goes by many other names including manuka myrtle, New Zealand tea tree, New Zealand tea bush, broom tea tree, and tea tree.

It is in the same plant family (Myrtaceae) as another highly-valued medicinal plant – the Australian tea tree – the source of tea tree oil.

Science Sheds New Light on an Ancient Remedy

The New Zealand Maoris have long been aware of this plant’s medicinal properties. But it wasn’t until the 1990’s after researchers at Waikato University in Hamilton, NZ discovered that manuka honey had unique properties. That was the start of its receiving global attention.

In a recently published 5-year cancer study that appeared in the prestigious scientific journal PLOS ONE, manuka honey was proven to inhibit the growth of several kinds of tumors.

But where manuka honey has really gotten both scientists and the public excited is its ability to fight bacteria, even antibiotic resistant strains.

Clinical trials have found this honey can effectively eradicate more than 250 strains of bacteria, including resistant varieties such as MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and MSSA (methicillin sensitive Staphylococcus aureus).

The Manuka Honey Difference

All honey in its natural state contains antioxidants, enzymes, flavonoids, and other compounds that contribute to its medicinal properties. But manuka honey contains an ingredient not found elsewhere called the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF).

Every batch of genuine New Zealand manuka honey is ranked according to its level of UMF and then is priced accordingly. A UMF rating of 10 or higher is recommended for medicinal use. The higher the concentration of UMF, the more expensive that batch of honey will be.

Honey at the “10 or above level” can be marketed as “UMF” or “active” manuka honey. But unfortunately there is little to stop an unscrupulous manufacturer from including the words “active” or “UMF 10+” on their product’s label.

And so the money games begin, and the search for genuine manuka honey just got a little harder for consumers.

Manuka Madness: Sabotage, Theft, and Fraud

It has recently come to the public’s attention that store bought honey is often adulterated. A shocking study by Food Safety News revealed that 75% of honey carried by major stores is so ultra-filtered that it no longer contains any pollen and that by current standards it shouldn’t even be considered honey!

Since manuka has become a $150 million-a-year industry for New Zealand, what has followed can be described as “Manuka Madness”.

Some beekeepers go as far as using helicopters to prospect for new sites. Land grabs take place between rival producers who vie for the best spot for their bee hives.

Bee hives have been literally burned by their competitors.

The New Zealand Herald reports manuka bee hive thefts and even fatal poisoning of thousands of bees.

In the UK some retailers are forced to use security cases similar to DVD cases to prevent rampant honey shoplifting.

And now the latest installment of this madness is a flood of manuka fakes on the market.

It sounds crazy until you realize that a jar of manuka honey – whether real or fake – can cost upwards of $50!

Massive food fraud was uncovered when officials did some basic math.

Officially 1,700 tonnes of genuine manuka are produced annually in New Zealand, which is about 3 million small jars. But an estimated 10,000 tonnes are sold around the world each year. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure that roughly 80% of all manuka sold is fake.

(Not into metric? One tonne = 2,204.6 pounds.)

Manuka honey exporters are asking the New Zealand government to clamp down on those flooding the market with fraudulent honey which is costing them money and bringing their industry into international disrepute.

What You Can Do

To make sure you aren’t getting fake manuka honey only buy it from one of the 50 companies that are Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association licensees.

You can find their list of approved honey organizations at

Also it’s almost certainly better to buy at a reputable retail location or directly from one of the company’s on the list. Amazon is struggling to keep counterfeit products of all kinds off their marketplace so if you are depending on your manuka’s medicinal value, it’s probably not worth the risk of buying it there.


Deane Alban holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and has taught and written on a wide variety of natural health topics for over 20 years. She teaches the best ways to stay mentally sharp for life at her website Brain fog, “senior moments”, and fuzzy thinking are signs your brain is not working as well as it should. Discover how to nourish your brain and optimize your brainpower — sign up for her email series 21 Days to a Brighter Brain here.




Deane Alban
Deane Alban is co-founder of and author of "Brain Gold: Brain Fitness Guide for Boomers" and "21 Days to a Brighter Brain."

Deane holds a bachelor's degree in biology from University of South Florida, where she also studied journalism. She has taught and written on a wide variety of natural health topics for over 20 years, including teaching healthy cooking classes.

As a baby boomer, Deane has turned her passion for healthy living to focus on a major problem people everywhere are facing – issues with mental decline right now and worries about Alzheimer's disease and dementia in the future. Deane brings the science down to earth in an entertaining and engaging way, giving her readers practical, easy-to-follow advice to keep their minds sharp for life.

Deane lives near Tucson, Arizona with her husband and business partner, Patrick, a retired chiropractor. She loves living in the desert where plenty of sunshine and outdoor activities help keep her mind young!