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Consumer protection in Hong Kong

HK$1,000 jar of manuka honey diluted with plant sugar, says Hong Kong Consumer Council

But maker says test readings are wrong, and its product only contains honey

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 July, 2018, 8:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 July, 2018, 12:33pm

Two brands of honey sold in Hong Kong contain antibiotic residues which can affect male fertility and cause cancer, the Consumer Council warned on Monday.

The council also said seven brands – including one that cost more than HK$1,000 (US$127) for a jar – were found to have other sweeteners, such as cane sugar, mixed in.

The findings came after the consumer watchdog tested 35 honey products and 10 manuka honey samples. Its report pointed out that Natural Bee Honey, made by Hero, contained up to eight antibiotics including a cancer-causing substance called metronidazole. It also said that the honey – which Hero claimed was made in Egypt – was possibly made in mainland China, based on pollen tests.

An agent for the company told the council that the products had been taken off shelves in June and it was investigating the matter.

Another product, Natural Honey, made by Ta Miaw Ko in Taiwan, was found to contain two antibiotics that could harm male fertility.

The council’s chief executive, Gilly Wong Fung-han, urged the government to regulate the use of antibiotics in honey, saying the city had “almost zero” rules on their use.

“If we look at overseas jurisdictions like the EU and America, they don’t allow these kinds of antibiotics to be used on animals. They have also established very stringent standards, and talk about acceptable daily intake,” Wong said.

The council’s tests also suggested seven companies mixed their honey with other sweeteners. One kind, called Taiwanese Honey and made by Yan Kang, was found to be made of 85 per cent other sugars, which mainly came from sweet corns and sugar cane syrup.

Wong Yuk-shan, chairman of the council, said a product made by Yan Kang was found to have similar problems in 2013, but was later rebranded.

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A manuka honey product costing more than HK$1000, made by Superbee UMF, was found to have sugars from other sources such as syrup.

“If traders adulterate high-priced natural honey with low-cost syrup, they could be misleading consumers,” Wong said.

Apart from the seven brands, sugars were also found in a manuka honey product made by Mossop’s in New Zealand. The honey costs more than HK$1,330 for a 500 gram jar, but 9 per cent of it was C4 plant sugar, a type of sugar commonly found in corn, pineapple and sugar cane, according to the council’s tests. International standards limit the amount of C4 plant sugar in honey to 7 per cent.

But the ingredients in manuka honey may naturally lead to a higher C4 value and that could slightly affect test results, the watchdog added.

The council did not consider C4 sugar test results for manuka honey.

In a response to the council, an agent for Mossop’s defended the product, saying a higher amount of natural unadulterated manuka honey could result in a higher reading for the amount of C4 plant sugar during tests. The agent said the product contained nothing but manuka honey.