Japan threatens to stop importing NZ honey after detecting weed killer

Japan has threatened to stop importing New Zealand honey after detecting the weed killer glyphosate through random product testing. 

Our Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) says there's absolutely no food safety risk but it's introducing mandatory testing of all Kiwi-produced honey bound for Japan.

"Japan has expressed a concern over the New Zealand honey exports not meeting the Japanese regulatory level for glyphosate," MPI manager Andrew Pearson told Newshub.

Glyphosate is a widely used weed killer, perhaps best known as the main ingredient in 'Roundup'. The herbicide has been classified as 'probably carcinogenic' by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

But MPI says you'd have to consume huge amounts in a day for there to be any food safety concern. 

"We've calculated that a five-year-old child would have to eat 230 kilograms of honey," Pearson said.

Japan has a very low glyphosate threshold for honey - 0.01 milligrams per kg.

That's ten times lower than our regulatory level. 

But regardless, the warning has prompted MPI to introduce mandatory testing.

"Japan is basically expecting us to have 100 percent residue-free honey, so we absolutely respect and accept that," Agriculture NZ CEO Karin Kos said.

Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) Honey Association says it's the customer's expectation that's important.

"At the end of the day, it's completely and utterly safe, however that's the customer's expectations - we need to meet it," UMF's administrator says.

Most honey producers, like Neil Stucky, have already been testing their product for glyphosate.

"It is an expensive test so it's just adding hundreds of dollars," Waitemata Honey Company owner Neil Stucky said. "Every time you send something to Japan you've got this extra test."

MPI's compulsory honey testing only applies for exports to Japan - and if producers can't provide test results, the liquid gold will have to be sold elsewhere.