Australian honey maker Capilano has been cleared of claims its Allowrie honey brand was not 100 per cent honey, but the competition watchdog has raised concerns about the industry’s product testing methods.
In September this year, Capilano was forced to defend its products after media reports that a number of honey products on sale in Australia – including the company’s Allowrie brand – were not the pure 100 per cent honey they claimed to be. Instead, it was claimed that the products were either partially or entirely made from a sugar syrup substitute.
Capilano vigorously defended both the quality of its product as well as the testing model it uses to verify the authenticity of its honey.
“While we have full confidence that Allowrie honey contains only pure honey, we also recognise that there is no consensus view from across the industry about the reliability of the NMR test that has led to the reports in the media,” Capilano Honey managing director Dr Ben McKee said at the time.
The allegations that Capilano had made false or misleading claims to consumers saw the ACCC become involved, which launched its own product tests as well as a review of the two main types of testing used to authenticate honey.
This week, the ACCC revealed that it had concluded its investigation and “did not uncover any other evidence that supported the allegation Capilano’s ‘Allowrie’ honey was adulterated with sugar syrup”.
“The allegations were based on results arising from a testing process known as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) testing. NMR testing can be used for a variety of applications but has only recently emerged as a testing method for honey adulteration,” the ACCC said in a statement.
“The ACCC is advised NMR testing is not yet reliable enough to determine whether honey is adulterated and therefore should not be used as a basis to support legal action. This is consistent with the approach of regulators in the UK, US and the EU.”
However, ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh also raised concerns about the existing testing process – known as the C4 test.
“During the course of our investigation, however, it also became evident that there is low confidence in the current test method (the C4 test) used to detect adulterated honey,” he said.
“Governments and research agencies around the world are investigating alternative testing methods, including NMR, but these are not yet developed to the point they can be used with sufficient confidence.”
Mr Keogh concluded: “It’s important that consumers have confidence in the claims made about the foods they purchase, including honey. The ACCC urges the honey industry and the Department of Agriculture to develop an agreed approach to testing and implement more robust programs to provide greater assurance about the integrity of their products.”
Capilano sales affected by ‘smear’
ASX-listed Capilano said in a statement that it was “satisfied” that both the ACCC and the Department of Agriculture agreed with its position that NMR testing – used as the basis for the original allegations – is “unreliable”.
“We have been testing our products with the internationally accepted C3/C4 tests for adulteration, which is the accepted testing procedure in Australia and used by regulatory authorities around the world,” it said.
“Capilano has been consistently testing products for adulteration and will continue to do so, using the best and most reliable test methods currently available. Capilano is proud of the quality of the products we pack, and it is a shame that media reports that led to the ACCC inquiry have cast doubts over honey products that comply with international standards.”
The company told My Business via a spokesperson that while the controversy had not impacted sales volumes of the Allowrie brand, the company had taken a hit more broadly.
“The report actually affected Capilano Honey sales, as its brand was smeared despite having nothing to do with the report nor the testing reported,” it said.
In response to the ACCC’s concerns around both types of testing, Capilano said that it is “investing in the creation of alternative testing methods – apart from ongoing C4/C3 testing – in Australia, while now testing all batches of honey on a daily basis”.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.