Australia stung by manuka honey trademark


Phar Lap, Russell Crowe, pavlova and Pineapple Lumps. Australia has laid claim to many well-known New Zealand icons.

However a group of New Zealand beekeepers are taking a stand to stop their product becoming the next big debate.

Manuka honey is well known for its health properties and is marketed as different to normal honey, with a price-tag to match.

John Rawcliffe from the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association is one of several beekeepers who have applied to trademark it as our own.

"They used to call it either tea tree or jelly bush but they started using it after it became famous from New Zealand," he says.

Manuka honey is made by bees that pollinate the shrub-like tree Leptospermum scoparium. The plant goes by a few names, including tea tree, red damask and, of course, manuka.

The plant grows here and across the ditch, but it's the Kiwi variety that gets the most attention, and it's big business.

It exports for around $150 per kg and earns New Zealand hundreds of millions of dollars a year, plus celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Novak Jokovich swear by it.

"They want to know when they pick-up a jar of honey it's come from New Zealand, nowhere else.  It's very similar to champagne wine, Scottish whiskey, Cornish pasties in U.K, all those things the consumer is now demanding that traceability and that recognition of where it comes from," Mr Rawcliffe says.

He says the word is Māori, but Trevor Weatherhead from the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council claims the name is Aboriginal.

"If you go back through history, if you go back thousands of years, it actually came from Australia and went to New Zealand - so that's the origin if you look at it," he says.

Intellectual Property lawyer Jenni Rutter says trademarking it here will be a struggle.

"It's really difficult to get trademarks registered when they are descriptive because we are talking about just the words on their own which means that nobody else could necessarily use those words at all on a product. I think that's going too far."

Trevor Weatherhead says the Aussies will fight New Zealand's bid to claim manuka as its own.

However, he's suggesting a more Anzac approach, with the Aussies and Kiwis teaming up to trademark it together.