Australia - New Zealand - Bitter Dispute Over Sweet Stuff; The Manuka Honey Certification Row.

Legal News & Analysis - Asia Pacific - Australia - New Zealand - Intellectual Property

6 January, 2020

 

The issue in dispute is whether the certification  mark, "Manuka honey" should be confined only to the products of New Zealand bees

 

What you need to know

 

  • New Zealand honey producers are attempting to register the Maori word "Manuka" as a certification trade mark in several countries, and have opposed applications filed by Australian producers here. 
  • Australian producers are resisting the certification registrations overseas on the grounds that the honey is produced from trees that occur naturally in both Tasman nations. 

 

Manuka honey is reported to have a multitude of health and wellness uses and benefits, some lab-proven and some highly dubious. These health claims mean that Manuka can command a premium over standard honey. It is also one of the world's most counterfeited food products, and the amount of honey traded internationally as Manuka exceeds worldwide production by a factor of five. Unsurprisingly, New Zealand producers are seeking to identify their genuine product through the use of certification trade marks in several countries.

 

Manuka Honey is produced by bees that collect nectar from the bush Leptospermum scoparium. The tree, which is native to South Eastern Australia and New Zealand, is known as Jelly-bush, Tea Tree or Goo-bush in Australia, and as Manuka Bush in New Zealand. The issue in dispute is whether the certification mark, "Manuka honey" should be confined only to the products of New Zealand bees. 

 

New Zealand producers' argument

 

New Zealand producers argue that the Manuka Bush is a different species to the Australian plants, whereas Australian producers counter that the properties of the honey produced by the two countries are identical. Both sides claim that science is on their side. The fact that Manuka is a Maori word, adds a cultural element to the dispute.

 

The New Zealand Government has thrown its financial support behind its growers' attempts to lock up the word. The dispute promises to be an interesting one to watch, and the current hotspots are an application under consideration in China, and an Australian appeal against a New Zealand win in the UK. 

 

Australian trade mark application for AUSTRALIAN MANUKA

 

There is also an Australian trade mark application for AUSTRALIAN MANUKA for honey that is under opposition by the Manuka Honey Appellation Society, however, many trade marks already registered in Australia for honey and other things contain the word MANUKA (the Manuka Honey Appellation Society's own Australian application for a certification mark lapsed in 2017). Evidence has just been completed in that opposition and a hearing is due to be scheduled soon.

 

Wins for the New Zealand producers could mean big losses for the Australians. For example, Manuka Honey sells for up to $400 per kilogram in China. But with New Zealand production alone unable to meet growing international demand, the rewards for the counterfeiters may also grow even sweeter.

Ashurst Logo

 

For further information, please contact:

 

Carrick Brough, Ashurst
carrick.brough@ashurst.com