Former All Blacks Buck Shelford and Sir John Kirwan throw weight behind effort to protect mānuka honey

Former All Blacks Buck Shelford and Sir John Kirwan are part of a mission to do for mānuka honey what the French did for champagne. 

They are on a crusade to stop producers in other countries using the name mānuka.

Mānuka honey is produced by bees who feed off nectar from leptospermum scoparium, which is a type of tea tree, and the honey is highly sought after around the world.

But many here believe those making the product in other countries should not have the right to market it as mānuka.

"Honey is honey," Shelford told The Project. "But when it's called mānuka honey and they want to be able to take it overseas you're actually taking Maori with you on that journey.

"So you're taking, as my wife says, you're taking the children of the forest. And we want to make sure that the name mānuka honey is not tāhae [stolen] in any way."

Last year the Government contributed more than $5 million to help New Zealand beekeepers secure the exclusive term for global marketing.

"I think the most important thing about this is that mānuka is ours," Sir John told The Project.

"For me, it's about families working in a little industry, getting it together and being the world's best at something."

Shelford said mānuka is a national treasure and should be protected.

"It's a little bit like our All Black brand. We pride ourselves nowadays in the haka, because what it does is, I believe, it brings a lot of mana to the All Blacks, and it's powerful."

He said mānuka is a "different breed" from honey made overseas.

"All people want the name and they want to put it on a par with us and I believe we've got to look after that name."

Pita Tipene, chair of the Mānuka Trust, says the mere smell of mānuka "takes me back to home".

"I consider myself and all New Zealanders as kaitiaki [guardians] and looking after its wairua - it's spirit - and it's mauri and the essence that makes it mānuka."