Organic Producer Stung by Japanese Glyphosate Crackdown

Marina Strioukova

A small, award-winning organic honey producer in the Far North, has taken a financial and reputational hit from Japan's crackdown on glyphosate levels in New Zealand honey.

Mills Farm’s mānuka honey was rejected by Japan, along with honey from three other producers, after more stringent testing was introduced from January 20 for traces of the weed killer glyphosate. Japan began testing all New Zealand honey at the border after concerns were raised following random testing.

“The financial cost has made a substantial hit on our financial performance, and the associated press comment casts by inference a negative view on the companies involved,” said beekeeping couple Warren Mills and Marina Strioukova, who own Marina’s Apiary which trades as Mills Farm.

Mills, of Northland iwi Ngāti Kahu, has been beekeeping for more than 50 years and lives and works on his ancestral lands “Mills Farm” in Peria with his partner Strioukova who moved from Russia in 1995 and was educated in bee-keeping science and care in her homeland.

Their apiary has been certified as organic by AsureQuality, as well as the Māori organic organisation Te Waka Kai Ora, and they promote their products as coming from an ecologically clean area.

The couple’s honey was part of a regular order for a Japanese customer that they had been supplying for 15 years, including pure mānuka honey, honey and bee venom toiletries, and other by-products. Their honey was exported before the stricter testing was introduced, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays in shipping and clearance in Japan for an unexpectedly long period, they said.

“At the time of order placement, we were unaware of the forthcoming change. The product was produced, tested, and delivered in December and would normally have been in the hands of our clients in early January, but due to Covid, the stock only surfaced in Japan at the end of January.”

They were left with no choice but to allow the products to be destroyed in Japan as the Ministry of Primary industries doesn’t accept the return of honey to New Zealand due to biosecurity rules.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in products like Round-Up. Japanese authorities have warned MPI that if 5 percent of imported honey exceeds its glyphosate limit, it will stop our honey exports to Japan. That trade was worth $71 million last year, double the value of 2019, according to Stats NZ.

Japan requires glyphosate levels of no more than 0.01 parts per million, considered the detectable level, compared with New Zealand’s regulation of 0.1ppm and the European Union standard of 0.05ppm. Honey producers here say the lower Japanese limit is because the country doesn’t have a separate classification for honey but lumps it in the default “others” category in the rules.

Mills Farm said they intend to continue to export to Japan, despite the very strict levels and trusts its clients in Japan will continue to support them with the higher costs of achieving those levels.

“We have yet to hear or see how this will affect our future relationship with the Japanese authorities, but we are positive that whatever levels we have will be confirmed by MPI and then that will be confirmed by testing in Japan,” they said.

All of the company’s honey is tested for glyphosate by Analytica Laboratories.

“We are talking to MPI as to their role in the matter as we do incur major costs from their certification and to what they can do, as we are talking to our industry advisors for their advice.”