Aussies claim mānuka honey can be Australian

By Jessica Tyson

New Zealand Mānuka honey producers are continuing their fight to trademark the name Mānuka after Australian honey producers tried to claim it’s theirs.

Leading the fight from Aotearoa is the Mānuka Honey Appellation Society. Māori representative member Victor Goldsmith says mānuka honey can only be produced in New Zealand.

“The DNA of the actual tree is different from Australia, he says.

“It just comes down to money. At the end of the day, prior to 2016, they used to market the honey as Jellybush and, I suppose, when you have some corporate people coming in they said ‘We've got a really similar Tea Tree. Let’s call it Mānuka’.”

Goldsmith says the Mānuka Honey Appellation Society filed the application for certification trademark in the United Kingdom in 2015.

“We were successful in 2018. So the United Kingdom intellectual property office made the ruling that mānuka was a Māori world and that Mānuka can only come from honey producers in New Zealand. The Australians promptly objected to that so we are going through the processes at the moment to present our case which will be in January next year in the UK.”

Goldsmith says Māori have a cultural association with Mānuka which goes back to the creation story about when Tāne Mahuta separated Ranginui and Papatuānuku.

“So Māori are a little upset that [Australian producers] are going to use this word and interchange that word the likes of their Tea Tree and Jellybush. So we’re going to be fighting.”

He says Mānuka has a lot of medicinal qualities including antibacterial, anti-inflammatory properties. Mānuka honey sells for as much as $400/kg.

"We’ve been marketing honey for a number of years and all of a sudden the Australians believe they have a very similar Tea Tree. So it is about money. It is the most expensive honey in the world and I think they want a slice of the pie. So we’ve got this mischief happening over in Australia that’s only just recent. It doesn’t go back to the 1800s.

As part of the New Zealand Government’s provincial growth fund Minister Shane Jones funded $5.7 million for the Mānuka Honey Appellation Society to support the legal costs.

“We also have a comprehensive science project programme to be able to support the fact that when people buy Mānuka honey there’s all the science that sits behind it.”

Goldsmith says the fight is also about the consumer making sure that they’re buying authentic genuine Mānuka honey, “honey and that can only be from New Zealand”.