Honey war heats up after research finds major genetic differences between NZ and Australia mānuka

The trans-Tasman battle over mānuka honey is heating up again with new research revealing major genetic differences between our mānuka trees and Australia's.

In May, New Zealand honey producers lost a court case to stop Australian beekeepers from using the lucrative term 'mānuka'.

But the fight isn't over.

Inside a lab, scientists are busy unravelling the mānuka tree's genetic information.

They've analysed more than 500 samples from across Australia and New Zealand and were surprised to find huge differences.

"I was very excited by the results we found because it was quite striking as I couldn't imagine how different the New Zealand and Australia types were," Plant and Food Research science group leader Dr David Chagne said.

The mānuka tree, leptospermum scoparium, has grown in both countries for hundreds of years and provided a lucrative market.

It's been the subject of many court battles to try and trademark mānuka honey as New Zealand's.

And researchers say this study proves Australia's trees should be re-classified.

"It indicates they're very, very different genetically and it could be classified as a different species," Dr Chagne told Newshub.

It's a finding that took months rather than years.

It's new technologies like the Nanopore MinION device that have really sped up genome sequencing around the world for species including mānuka.

That's because they can put a DNA sample in and it will process it almost instantly.

Although the research is not convincing the Australian manuka industry (which spells the word mānuka without a macron).

"This is only one paper and one side of the argument," Australian Manuka Honey Association chair Ben McKee said.

Our mānuka industry disagrees - saying the revelation of how different the two countries' trees are adds fuel to their argument.

"We're absolutely staunch on protecting mānuka, what belongs to Aotearoa New Zealand, on behalf of all New Zealanders - and we'll take any path to do that," Mānuka Charitable Trust chair Pita Tipene said.

Photo credit: Getty Images

"You have to face the facts that Australia was the home of the species originally, both indigenous people from both places have used the honey," McKee said.

It's a sticky situation that Tipene believes is driven by greed.

"We know that it's the commercial bottom line that drives what they say and what they do," he said.

"Mānuka is a Māori word, Māori people do not come from Australia."

And they're vowing to keep fighting to protect it.