Aussie fury as NZ honey war heats up

A bitter dispute is raging between producers of a particular type of honey in Australia and New Zealand that has created a billion dollar industry.

Manuka honey producers fear Australia could be frozen out of a billion dollar industry if the federal government does not help it fight a “ridiculous” legal push from New Zealand to trademark the name.

Manuka honey has become globally sought-after, including by stars such as tennis great Novak Djokovic, due to its wide-ranging medicinal benefits.

It has antimicrobial properties, can help the healing of wounds and costs between $300 and $500 per kilogram.

Australia is one of the main producers of manuka honey, with China, Japan and the UK among the biggest buyers of the superfood, which is also used in pharmaceutical and medical products.

But the use of the name manuka is currently the subject of a bitter trans-Tasman dispute.

Paul Callander, chairman of the Australian Manuka Honey Association, said the NZ government had committed more than $1 million towards a trademark action over the word “manuka” being led by a group of Kiwi producers from the Manuka Honey Appellation Society.

The trademark request argues general geographical indicators are used for many other products, for example Barossa Valley wines, and would prefer Australian beekeepers call their product Tea Tree honey instead.

It also claims manuka is a Māori name inextricably tied to New Zealand, similar to the term champagne is to a region in France.

However, manuka honey is made from the nectar of Leptospermum trees, which are native to both Australia and New Zealand.

The NZ group is seeking trademark certification in the United Kingdom, United States, Europe, NZ and China.

The New Zealand government recently committed NZ$6 million in support of its own manuka industry, with more than NZ$1.4 million going directly to the legal battle.

Mr Callander said the 70 members of the AMHA were concerned about the future of their industry.

“If we lose the right to use word manuka on honey, all producers in Australia would have to rebrand and the cost of that would be astronomical,” he told NCA NewsWire.

“This trademark (request) is ridiculous. It’s a trademark for a descriptive term. Where does it stop? Can we trademark ‘barramundi’ or ‘feta’ cheese?”

The AMHA also issued a statement calling on the federal government to offer financial and negotiation support, as the New Zealand government has now done.

“We really need the Federal government to get off the fence and start actively supporting what is an established local industry with huge potential,” the statement said.

“The government has made it clear that it will be investing in new manufacturing ventures as part of its COVID-19 recovery plans. It is madness if at the same time it fails to do what it can to sustain and grow existing industries.

“On current forecasts the global manuka honey industry is expected to be worth $1.27 billion by 2027 – that’s a significant market to surrender and we find the government’s muted response truly inexplicable.”

However, federal trade minister Dan Tehan said in April the government would rather help industries from the two countries collaborate than fund legal bills.

He raised the subject with NZ counterpart, Damien O‘Connor.

“I propose that the Australian and New Zealand governments jointly facilitate a workshop with our respective manuka honey industries,” Mr Tehan said in a statement last month.

“Including in areas such as industry development, research, joint marketing, technology sharing and addressing fraudulent honey products.“

In 2017, the UK trademark registry granted the New Zealand Manuka Honey Appellation Society a certification mark for the term manuka honey.

The certification meant buyers in the UK would be guaranteed manuka from New Zealand contains certain properties, while manuka honey produced in Australia would not carry that guarantee.

The decision in the UK is under review.

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