The fight over all the good things such as the origins of the pavlova and Crowded House, or perhaps actor Russell Crowe (maybe not so much!), have at times caused bitter divide over the barbeque between trans-Tasman cousins, New Zealand and Australia.
Manuka honey, a popular and extraordinarily expensive honey endorsed by celebrities near and far for its reported medicinal qualities, is no exception.
The latest move, driven by New Zealand’s Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMF), has caused a buzz in the Australian honey community. A trade mark application for the mark MANUKA HONEY was filed in Australia in August 2016 (TM No. 1752903) by Manuka Honey Appellation Society Incorporated (MHAS), a Society established by UMF to ensure ownership to the name ‘Manuka Honey’ is secured for New Zealand honey producers. The application was filed claiming MANUKA HONEY as a certification mark – meaning that if registered, MHAS will have control over who can use the words MANUKA HONEY on honey.
Of course, this is not the end of the matter. MHAS is likely to face an objection that the mark is descriptive. They will also need to provide the Trade Marks Office with a set of guidelines and standards which honey producers have to meet if they wish to use the words MANUKA HONEY on their products. Such standards can stipulate the quality, content, manufacturing method, and importantly in this case, the geographical origin. This is essentially the thrust of the issue between the New Zealand and Australian honey industries.
MHAS’ claim is that Manuka honey can only be produced in New Zealand by bees which collect nectar from the ‘Manuka’ tree (botanically known as Leptospermum scoparium). And of course, the word ‘Manuka’ has its roots in New Zealand in that it is a word from the indigenous Maori language. Thus, UMF claim that the name, MANUKA HONEY, should be protected for the benefit of New Zealand honey producers. The purpose of registering the name as a certification trade mark is to give consumers confidence that when purchasing a product bearing the words MANUKA HONEY, they can rely on the authenticity of this product being from New Zealand and from the nectar of Manuka plants.
Australian honey producers, and in particular the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council, claim that the production of Manuka honey is not limited to just New Zealand. In fact, the Leptospermum scoparium variety of tree is also found in Australia and honey is produced from its nectar – and accordingly, labelled as ‘Manuka Honey’ in many cases.
With MHAS’ trade mark application in Australia still pending until at least 11 July 2017, a resolution to this matter is not likely for a while. We’ll keep you updated on how this sticky situation resolves itself.