Australian honey is different; better purity tests needed

A government backed review of tests to prove honey purity says that they sometimes don’t work with Australian honeys.

Just like Australian trees and plants, some Australian honeys have different chemical characteristics compared to those found in other parts of the world, and particularly in Europe.

Australian Manuka honeys, leatherwood honeys and others have been shown to produce ‘false positives’  using the traditional so-called C4 test for honey purity.

This fact is highly significant given that last year two different scientific studies attracted widespread media attention for their finding that Australian honeys had failed purity tests.

However Peter MacDonald, chairman of the Honey Bee Council of Australia told the Tasmanian edition of ABC Radio’s Country Hour that there are serious questions about the  tests used in the scientific studies.

 “We feel that the science behind some of those reports last year was fundamentally flawed” he said, adding that anecdotal evidence suggested honey sales in Australian supermarkets had taken an immediate 15-30% hit in the wake of the bad publicity.

He said that consumers had responded to the adulteration scare by buying at the farmgate, as it were, and buying direct from beekeepers so as to source pure honey with a proven provenance.

Even so McDonald said the industry still needed consumers to buy through traditional channels.

“We need people to [have enough confidence] to buy honey at our supermarkets as well” he said

“We have to keep telling people that we’ve got a pure and pristine product.”

McDonald said the recent review by the Australian government’s Agrifutures agency (formerly known as the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation) had documented a range of issues in both traditional and newer honey testing approaches.

No single approach is without its issues, and the report recommends that work should continue on identifying and recording the specific and unique characteristics of Australian honeys.

McDonald also said that a combination of drought conditions in many parts of Australia and wild fires in other areas has had a significant effect on Australian honey production over the past year or so.

But despite those headwinds McDonald said the Australian honey bee industry is booming.

There are record numbers of hobbyist and small commercial beekeepers, right across Australia.

And there is increasing recognition of the contribution to food production made by honeybees via pollination, and increasing numbers of scientists studying bees and/or honey related topics.

To listen to the 2nd July Tasmanian edition of ABC’s country hour go to

To download the Agrifutures report go to


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