New Japanese rules for NZ honey driven by consumer expectations - industry

New rules requiring all New Zealand honey exported to Japan to be tested for weed killer at the border are driven by consumer expectations, and the industry has no choice but to accept them, says one honey producer.

Japan has warned the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) it will stop allowing honey from New Zealand to be imported if the weed killer glyphosate is found in 5 percent of product coming in.

John Rawcliffe, spokesperson for the Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association, says while there is no safety risk posed by small amounts of glyphosate, New Zealand has no choice but to accept the new rules if it wants to continue exporting honey to Japan.

"It's a consumer expectation and every single country has its own territory requirements, like every consumer, and it's our job to meet those expectations," Rawcliffe told Dominic George on Magic Talk's Rural Today on Thursday.

He said research had shown that while glyphosate was not found in mānuka, "miniscule" traces had been found in other types of honey, but "at such a low level there is no danger here whatsoever".

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies glyphosate - which is used around the world as a weed killer -  as being "probably carcinogenic" to humans.

But MPI food risk assessment manager at New Zealand Food Safety, Andrew Pearson, told RNZ that New Zealand Food Safety has concluded there is no credible risk to users of the weedkiller or to consumers of produce with residues of glyphosate in compliance with New Zealand's maximum residue levels.

He said a five-year-old eating honey with the default maximum residue level here would have to consume roughly 230kg of honey every day for the rest of their life in order to reach the World Health Organisation's acceptable daily intake for glyphosate.

Rawcliffe said despite there being no safety risk, it was important for New Zealand to comply with the testing rules to protect the country's reputation.

"We're here to meet customers' expectations and we highlight those expectations by saying we're clean, green, pure New Zealand."

Last year, New Zealand exported $490 million worth of honey, with almost $68 million of that going to Japan.

Rawcliffe said although the financial repercussions of not taking Japan's concerns seriously could be significant, the issue was "about more than that - it's about our reputation".

"Meeting our expectations, that's our job - not to tell them what they want but to listen to the consumer, that's important."

Pearson said glyphosate testing would now be required before any New Zealand honey was exported to Japan.

"If test results are not provided, MPI will not grant export certification for that consignment of honey," he told RNZ.

Rawcliffe said producers would end up fronting the costs of the testing.

"Yet again the poor beekeeper is going to cop it. And there's no other options if you want to export - we must do this. 

"It doesn't matter what you think about it, whether it's of any importance or not - this is their expectation [and] we meet those expectations."