L ong before the name MÄnuka became synonymous with a booming honey industry, celebrity endorsements and protracted global disputes, it was known in MÄori legend. After TÄne Mahuta, the god of forests, separated his parents from their locked embrace, he set out to cloak PapatÅ«Änuku (his earth mother) in trees. One of these trees, born from his union with Tawake-Toro, was the MÄnuka, with its dense, spiky foliage, delicate white flowers and unique pollen.
MÄnuka is considered a taonga, or treasure, of which MÄori are considered the kaitiaki (guardians). The legend, and the MÄori relationship to MÄnuka, has become an important tool in a global battle to protect Aotearoa New Zealandâs MÄnuka honey brand, the most bitter part of which is between New Zealand and Australia.Australia and New Zealand at loggerheads over manuka honey trademark Read more
The lucrative honey is produced from bees feeding on the pollen of the Leptospermum scoparium plant, native to both Australia and New Zealand, and is famed for its anti-bacterial properties. In New Zealand, it is called MÄnuka, in Australia, it is more commonly known as Tea Tree, but the word Manuka (without a macron, which is used to indicate a long vowel) has been in common use in Tasmania for at least 100 years.
Both countries make the honey, both label it MÄnuka, or variations thereof, and both have multimillion-dollar export industries relying on that brand.
Some New Zealand batches with a particularly high UMF (unique MÄnuka factor) rating fetch NZ$2,000-$5,000 a jar at luxury stores like Harrods in London. Its value and the global demand has led to a spate of crimes in New Zealand, with reports of hive thefts, covert poisonings and fights between beekeepers over land use.
A fight over who can claim the name MÄnuka has also now been rumbling for years between Australia and New Zealand, with the latest face-off fast approaching.
New Zealandâs MÄnuka Honey Appellation Society first applied to trademark the name in 2015, and the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand eventually accepted in 2018. But the Australian Manuka Honey Association lodged an objection. A similar sequence of events played out in the UK, after its office accepted a New Zealand trademark application and Australia objected â that hearing is due to be revisited this month.
The hearing in the New Zealand Office was due to take place on 18 August, but was scuppered when the country went into a nationwide lockdown to stamp out a coronavirus outbreak. A decision on a new date is pending.
The MÄnuka Charitable Trust â a group representing industry, iwi (tribes) and government â was formed after Australia lodged its objection and will advocate on New Zealandâs behalf, backed by NZ$6m of government funding.Photos from âbeyond the graveâ: camera discovery reveals climberâs last images before fatal avalanche Read more
Its chair, Pita Tipene said the goal was simple â to stop the term MÄnuka Honey from being used on products made outside New Zealand.
âFor MÄori, this means that our reo is respected and a precious taonga [treasure] is being honoured and protected. For consumers, it means that they can trust they are getting genuine honey produced in New Zealand from our MÄnuka trees. It also protects the industry, export earnings and jobs.â
Tipene likened their plight to that of France battling to stop wine producers labelling their sparkling wines as champagne.
âNow anything labelled champagne must be from that region,â he said. âFor us it runs even deeper because MÄnuka is our taonga and our reo [language].â
New Zealand was the only country in the world that had a formal, scientific definition for honey derived from MÄnuka, which was regulated by the ministry for primary industries, Tipene said.Bees on honeycomb at an apiary in the Australian state of New South Wales. Photograph: Gregory Plesse/AFP/Getty Images
âThis definition requires that all honey exported from New Zealand under the name âMÄnuka honeyâ (which includes variations on the name) meets test requirements, ensuring it is unadulterated and true to labelling. This enables consumer confidence in this genuine and unique honey of New Zealand.â
John Rawcliffe, the chief executive of the UMF Honey Association, which verifies the authenticity and antimicrobial activity of MÄnuka honey, said the trademark was about protecting what was unique to New Zealand.
Rawcliffe pointed out that Australia had 83 varieties of Leptospermum, which the industry there classifies under a broad umbrella as Manuka. But not all of these Leptospermum varieties are created equal.
âItâs like calling all citrus species an orange,â he said.
âIf they turn around and say, âIâm going to call of these different honeys Manuka because I can quickly make a dollar out of it,â it is short term, it is incorrect and it is not helping the consumer, nor is it helping Australian beekeepers.
âIt is absolutely critical to turn these products into an artisan journey. If we donât do that, we commodify it and destroy it,â Rawcliffe said. âBoth countries lose because we both have a story of our land, of our product and our environment.âManuka honey products at a supermarket in Beijing, China. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters
But Australia argues that New Zealandâs attempt to trademark a plantâs name is wrong.
The chair of the Australian Manuka Honey Association (AMHA) , Paul Callander, said the anglicised word âManukaâ had been used in Australia for more than 100 years.
âWe will never use the Te Reo MÄori version of the word, however, the word Manuka as we spell it has no meaning in the MÄori language. We look at that as an Australian word.âUnstoppable movement: how New Zealandâs MÄori are reclaiming land with occupations Read more
(Rawcliffe challenges this, saying that if anyone were to add a macron on to the word Harrods, or to Penfolds, the name of an Australian wine producer, all hell would break loose.)
Callander said two MÄori board members on the AMHA backed Australiaâs stance and that there was no âunified MÄori approachâ on protecting the name.
âThis is actually not about benefiting MÄori, it is about controlling the industry.â
Callander said it was a false comparison to compare MÄnuka to champagne. âManuka is not a geographical name, it is a plant name, and does not have a right to place-name protection.â
He said the industry was an uneven playing field, with New Zealand dominating the market. Now the New Zealand association had added insult to injury by going after individual Australian beekeepers who were attempting to trademark their own products.
âIf you go after bankrupting our beekeepers, weâre going to get pretty upset.â
The AMHA has produced a 5,000-page document for its legal challenge, but Callander said the preference would be for New Zealand and Australia to work together, to share the name, collaborate in the market and set industry standards together.