Australian manuka honey producers will again attempt to block their New Zealand counterparts from trademarking the words “manuka honey” this week.

Key points:

  • New Zealand manuka honey producers want to trademark the words “manuka honey”.
  • NZ’s attempts to do this in Australia and USA have failed.
  • Australian producers argue the plant that the honey is derived from is native in both countries. 

In a three-day hearing before the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ), the Australian Manuka Honey Association will oppose the New Zealand Manuka Honey Appellation Society’s application for a “certification trademark” to prevent any foreign manuka honey from being labelled as such within New Zealand.

This is despite the fact existing laws in New Zealand ban imports of honey from nearly all countries, save for a small handful of Pacific Island nations. 

Before IPONZ, the Australian Manuka Honey Association will argue the plant from which manuka honey is derived, Leptospermum scoparium, grows natively on both sides of the Tasman Sea.

And the word “manuka” has been used to describe the plant and the honey since the 1930s in Australia.

The New Zealand Manuka Honey Appellation Society will argue their manuka honey is distinctly different from the Australian product, and the Maori word “manuka” carries an important cultural significance for New Zealand’s First Nations peoples. 

Manuka honey sells for hundreds of dollars a kilogram in export markets and has a long list of celebrity endorsements of its health properties.

The honey also has a range of demonstrated therapeutic benefits that make it a valuable product in the pharmaceutical and medical fields. 

A bee pollinating a Manuka tree.

New Zealand manuka honey producers only want the name to apply to honey produced on the eastern side of the Tasman Sea.

Limited range

Should New Zealand’s application be successful, the “certification mark” will only apply in New Zealand, according to Henry Hughes director David Moore.

“Outside of New Zealand, it’s a question of going country-by-country and looking at how the term manuka honey is understood in those countries, and whether it’s already been registered as a certification mark or a geographic indicator.

“To be honest, the Manuka Honey Appellation Society really has its work cut out for it because it needs to move jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction using whatever methods are available to it to protect the term “manuka honey”, ” he said 

Attempts to do this in Australia, China and the United States have already failed.

Australian producers are actively opposing a similar application before the UK Intellectual Property Office, and a decision in that matter will be handed down before the end of the year.

“They’ve been rejected in every jurisdiction so far, but the New Zealand government is funding them, so they keep trying,” according to the Australian Manuka Honey Association’s Paul Callander.

A bee pollinates a tea tree flower.

Leptospermum scoparium, which makes Manuka honey, has been proven to grow natively in both Australia and New Zealand. (

Supplied: Paul Callander

)

Failed forum

Mr Callander said the industry had been seeking support from the federal government for four years.

Trade minister, Dan Tehan, indicated in April, he wanted to hold a forum to bring both parties together and wrote to his New Zealand counterpart calling for a meeting.

But the workshop did not take place.

In a statement to the ABC, Mr Tehan said:

“Australian officials are monitoring the IPONZ hearings.

“It is in the interests of both countries to promote our high-quality manuka honey in global markets and prevent inferior or mislabelled honey product from third-country producers taking market share from our producers.

“We continue to work with New Zealand to advance our proposal for both countries to work together on areas such as industry development, research, joint marketing, technology sharing and addressing fraudulent honey products,” he said.

Trans-Tasman legal brawl over manuka honey continues in New Zealand
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