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Honeybush standards workshop held in Stellenbosch

article-imageA workshop on standards for the honeybush tea industry took place at Infruitec, Stellenbosch on 18 October 2012. Representatives from various government departments attended to update industry members on the latest standards and legislation for honeybush – whether sold in South Africa or destined for export. The latest requirements for information on honeybush packaging, as well as geographic indicators (GI) and Fair Trade for the honeybush industry also came under the spotlight.

From the discussion it became clear that the industry would have to engage the relevant government departments and quality control bodies about standardised procedures for moisture testing and the microbiological standards. Current procedures for determining the moisture content of tea samples are not standardised, and when the tea is stored in high-moisture environments, delays in testing may lead to the tea no longer being suitable for export. Some of local microbiological standards for honeybush tea are more strict that international standards and may have to be reconsidered. There are also concerns about different standards for tea sold locally vs export, uncertainty about standards for coliforms and E. coli and unrealistic numbers for the mould and yeast count which should be revised.

From a presentation made about new local and European food labelling legislation, it became clear that it will become very difficult to get any health claims or claims regarding anti-oxidants approved on tea packaging. To get a health claim approved a comprehensive dossier with extensive scientific evidence would have to be submitted, for example to the European Food Safety Association (EFSA). To date, numerous claims have been submitted by manufacturers of black tea and green tea, and none of these claims have been accepted. (Guidelines in new regulations in South Africa and how this is relevant to the honeybush industry – see below.)

GI (geographical indicators) has become a very important issue to protect local products and add value for export. GI is the name of a product where quality, reputation or other characteristics is essentially attributable to its origin, and this could potentially be a valuable tool to protection the name “honeybush” for the tea made from Cyclopia spp in South Africa. The development of a GI application is potentially a complex and time consuming task, but something that the industry has to consider. The fact that honeybush tea is often exported in bulk and blended with other teas or herbs could further complicate the issue.

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