Police allege a crime family involved in a million dollar baby formula syndicate were also stealing and selling Manuka honey.
Police allege a crime family involved in a million dollar baby formula syndicate were also stealing and selling Manuka honey.

Honey locked up after spike in theft

IN AUGUST last year police investigators searched two homes in greater Sydney, seizing 4000 tins of baby formula, large quantities of vitamins, and Manuka honey.

The police arrested a sixth individual on Saturday as part of what they have called an "expansive" network involved in the theft of these non-luxury items, which they allege are being onsold in China for enormous profits.

More and more in Australia, seemingly everyday pharmaceutical items are being identified as lucrative, targeted by criminals who sell them on for massive profits.

Recent attention has focused on baby formula, which major retailers last year took to locking away behind counters and controlling with customer purchase limits.

But Manuka honey has become a new major target in the past 12 months, with retailers also being forced to lock the popular medicinal product behind shelves.

"We are seeing increased theft in Manuka honey," said Capilano Honey's Tanya Watt.

She told news.com.au that major retailers including Chemist Warehouse had taken to locking up the medicinal honey behind counters and putting empty display jars in certain areas with known "daigou" activity.

In the past 12 months the brand has also installed source tags, an anti-theft device, but said thieves employ the use of foil lined bags and other techniques to escape detection when stealing the precious honey.

Ms Watt said the upswing in popularity from Chinese consumers is due to a number of different circumstances, but said a major factor noted by Capilano was the release of a study in 2012 which called Manuka a sustainable "cancer vaccine".

Chinese doctors now recommend people use Manuka to treat their stomach issues.

"Chinese people will often prefer a natural product over a medicine," Ms Watt said.

Manuka honey has powerful antibacterial and other medicinal properties.
Manuka honey has powerful antibacterial and other medicinal properties.

In Australian stores, a small jar of Manuka honey is not cheap, retailing for between $50 and $150. But in China the acrid, woody sweet bee liquid is markedly more expensive, retailing for somewhere in the vicinity of $471 for a 500 gram jar.

In 2007 China was importing almost no honey from New Zealand, but by 2014 the market was demanding about 1500 tonnes, a large majority of which was Manuka honey.

COST OF MANUKA IS SKYROCKETING

Since 2012 the price of Manuka honey has tripled. In New Zealand a hive is worth $2000 and hive theft has become a real issue.

Back in Australia with the recent arrests of the family-run baby formula syndicate also including Manuka and vitamins as part of their alleged million-dollar enterprise it would appear that jars of the medicinal bee juice have made the transition from toast spread to liquid gold.

So lucrative is the name and provenance that a recent dispute broke out between Australia and New Zealand when Kiwi producers sought to trademark the name "Manuka Honey". The move would stop other producers from being able to use the name in global markets, despite their honey being authentic.

It led to the creation of the The Australian Manuka Honey Association (AMHA), which is backed by Australian honey giant Capilano, allowing Australian brands to band together to fight the Kiwi producers.