In the late 1800s, scientists discovered that honey possesses antibacterial qualities. Instead of using antibacterial soap, which not only destroys the potentially-harmful bacteria on your skin, but also the good, honey can provide protection against microorganisms without eradicating the friendly microbes.
But one particular honey that’s indigenous to New Zealand reigns supreme when it comes to antibacterial properties. It’s called manuka. Named after the native manuka bush, which bees pollinate, manuka honey is widely considered to be the most potent for healing skin infections and dampening pain and inflammation.
Manuka may possess up to 100 times more antibacterial activity than other types of honey. Next time you’re at the supermarket, see if you can find manuka honey in the sweetener aisle. If you find a bottle, you’ll notice a number on the bottle. This is the ‘unique manuka factor’ (UMF). The higher the number, the more potent the honey. Look for a minimum UMF of 10. (The higher the number, the more expensive it is.)
According to China’s Global Times, during the period from May 2019 to May 2020, New Zealand exported NZ$413 million (US$299 million) worth of manuka honey.
The country’s third-largest honey customer is Japan, which purchases NZ$68 million (US$49.2 million) worth of manuka from New Zealand every year. But Japan is threatening to discontinue purchasing New Zealand honey if the country fails to adhere to strict glyphosate testing standards.
Glyphosate is best known as the main active ingredient in Roundup, which is the world’s leading brand of herbicide. In 2015, glyphosate was classified as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. But New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries says you’d have to eat huge amounts of it a day for glyphosate to be a food-safety concern.
Japan has one of the lowest glyphosate thresholds for honey: 0.01 milligrams per kilogram. This amount is 10 times lower than New Zealand’s own regulatory level. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes glyphosate limits for various crops. The limits range from 0.1 ppm (parts per million) to 310 ppm. (1 part per million equals 1 mg/kg, thus 0.01 mg/kg of glyphosate equals 0.01 ppm.
In essence, what this means is that Japan expects New Zealand honey to be 100% free of glyphosate residue. The problem for New Zealand honey farmers is that glyphosate testing is relatively expensive. In addition to Japanese agricultural ministers who are demanding that imports of honey be free of glyphosate residue, other advocates of this policy believe that the strict standards are necessary to reduce the likelihood of adulterated or contaminated honey flooding the marketplace.
Furthermore, opponents of glyphosate spraying believe that due to the pervasiveness of the herbicide in major food crops, human health is at risk.