An Auckland businessman has been fined more than $26,000 for offences related to making false therapeutic claims about honey and failing to ensure he was a registered exporter.
Jonathan Paul Towers, 43, has been sentenced in the Auckland District Court and fined $26,300 after earlier pleading guilty to one charge under the Food Act and one charge under the Animal Products Act.
A Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) investigation found that Towers exported honey worth approximately $30,000 while not being registered between March 2014 and November 2016.
MPI north investigations manager Simon Anderson says Towers operated his business in such a manner that he avoided the normal regulatory controls relating to record-keeping and traceability, as well as failing to operate under a risk management programme to ensure food safety.
"Between March 2016 and December 2017, he also made prohibited therapeutic claims about honey, selling it as high-value mānuka honey, and claiming that it had therapeutic properties," says Mr Anderson.
"Claims of this nature normally mean the honey will attract a much higher market value. However, such claims cannot be made on honey as there are no scientifically substantiated evidence to support these claims and consumers are misled by this type of labelling."
Mr Anderson says the honey industry is an extremely significant primary industry for New Zealand given its growth in recent years from a $121 million export industry in 2012 to one that is now worth well over $300 million.
"One of the issues for exporters is maintaining the trust and confidence of overseas consumers and regulators.
"Registration of exporters is very important because it supports our overseas market access programmes. Duties of exporters exist under the Animal Products Act to ensure export products are fit for intended purpose, and that appropriate records are kept in the event they are needed for a recall or any other food incident.
"Offending of this type bypasses regulatory controls and quality assurances. It creates potential food safety risks, misleads consumers, and could undermine the integrity of the New Zealand honey industry and the reputation of New Zealand's exports in general.
"MPI will take serious action to address this sort of offending including prosecution action where it is appropriate."