UK decision Aussies can use ‘Manuka’ to describe honey slammed as 'insulting'

By Will Trafford

‘Insulting to Māori and our culture’ is the stinging rebuke from Kiwi honey producers after a UK authority ruled Australians could brand their honey products ‘Manuka’.

The UK Intellectual Property Office has ruled against New Zealand’s attempt to protect the word Manuka as honey from Aotearoa; in the same way the French have maintained the term Champagne as wine produced from the Champagne region in France.

Despite acknowledging Manuka as being a Māori word, the IP office found Manuka in the English language is a descriptive term which represents honey that could derive in New Zealand by the Manuka tree or in Australia from the Australian tea tree.

Australians presented UK Oxford dictionary definitions of Manuka, articles in the press and what they claimed was evidence the term Manuka had been used in Australia as early as the 1800s to present the notion that UK consumers wouldn’t know the difference. The court seemingly bought that.

“The combination of the dictionary definitions, the manner of the use and the way in which manuka honey is presented to the relevant public is very likely to lead to it being perceived, by at least a large proportion of the relevant public, as a purely descriptive term designating a type of honey.” it wrote in its ruling.

In 2018 the office sided with kiwis, issuing a certification mark for the term 'Mānuka' to Aotearoa’s producers, but the Australians essentially appealed that, this time arguing for the term ‘Manuka’ (without the macron).

Labelled a ‘stunt’ by NZ producers the Australians presented a 2018 report by the Māori Language Commission citing “Mānuka” or “Maanuka” as the Māori term for the honey; essentially arguing without the macron, the term is generic.

Aotearoa’s representative body, the Mānuka Charitable Trust says this latest ruling is ‘out of step’ with indigenous intellectual property frameworks and its Chair Pita Tipene reiterated NZ’s view it represents a danger British consumers will be misled.

"We remain strongly of the view that it is misleading to consumers for honey producers outside of Aotearoa New Zealand to claim the name mānuka honey when the plant the nectar came from did not grow in Aotearoa."

“This is an Indigenous rights issue and is out of step with existing Indigenous IP frameworks. Manuka is our Māori reo and a precious taonga that we must honour and protect,” Tipene said.

The Australian Manuka Honey Association which presented the Aussie case says it’s ‘delighted’ by the UK decision, saying it will have ‘widespread ramifications in jurisdictions beyond the United Kingdom’.

With estimations Mānuka’s global market value could exceed $1.27 billion by 2027 the Aotearoa lobby in partnership with the New Zealand government says it is reviewing its options.

“This ruling ignores the role of iwi as kaitiaki and is insulting to Māori and our culture.” Tipene reiterated.