Manuka honey controversy turns sour; Australia furious at New Zealand’s attempt to trademark word ‘Manuka’

By @ritwikroy1985 on
Manuka Honey
Manuka honey products are seen at a supermarket in Beijing, China, August 23, 2016. Reuters/Thomas Peter

Australia and New Zealand are battling it out over the champagne of honeys, Manuka. New Zealand has made its move to trademark the word “Manuka,” alarming Australian producers. The honey, produced from a single plant, Leptospermum scoparium, is quite popular and very expensive.

The demand for Manuka honey has seen a surge in Chinese markets for its medical benefits. In export markets, the honey sells for about $150 a kilogram. Spokesman for New Zealand trade group the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) Honey Association, John Rawcliffe, said that the Manuka honey deserves the same kind of protection as Champagne.

As per industry estimates, the combined export value of the New Zealand and Australia industry is about $300 million. Even though the honey’s plant grows natively in Australia, New Zealanders believe the plant and the honey the bees make it from is their apart from the word too.

Similarly, Australian producers are of the opinion the Manuka tree, which gives the sticky stuff its name is an Aussie native. Rawcliffe said that even though the honey came from the same plant grown both in New Zealand and Down Under, the bee is representative of New Zealand’s environment.

“The word is a Maori word, and that needs to be protected and ensured it's held in its rightful place here as part of New Zealand,” Rawcliffe said, reports the ABC.

If New Zealand does trademark the word, Aussie producers won’t be able to call it Manuka. Trevor White from Australian Honey Bee Industry Council called this controversy ridiculous and tried to put an end to it saying that the word “Manuka” has been used Down Under since the 1800s.

White said he has evidence that "Manuka" was used in Tasmania by Aboriginals living there where the same plant grows. But producers in New Zealand have already lodged the trademark application.

“I will certainly be objecting to any applications for having a restrictive use of that particular name. Because that plant is here in Australia, and the name has been used in Australia for many years going way back into the 1800s,” White explained.