Aussies score a sweet victory in legal fight over ‘manuka honey’ trademark

Manuka honey is made by bees that pollinate the manuka tree, found in New Zealand and some parts of Australia.  PHOTO: UNSPLASH

LONDON – Australian honey producers scored a win in their legal tussle with New Zealand over the use of the term “manuka honey” in Britain and Europe – though the Kiwis say it may be a short-lived victory.

The two neighbouring nations have been locked in legal proceedings for the past five years after a group of New Zealand honey producers sought to prevent their Australian counterparts from using the description in various countries.

In the latest development, New Zealand’s Manuka Honey Appellation Society (MHAS) discontinued its High Court appeal in Britain to trademark the words “manuka honey” just days before Christmas, weeks after withdrawing its application for a certification mark in the European Union.

“The MHAS backdown means the UK Intellectual Property Office ruling of December 2021 in Australian beekeepers’ favour stands, and there is no restraint or trademark on manuka naming rights,” Australian Manuka Honey Association (AMHA) chairman Paul Callander said.

However, Mr John Rawcliffe, chief executive officer of New Zealand’s Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association and a member of MHAS, said the legal withdrawal was strategic, and the group plans to refile the appeal. 

At stake is access to the international manuka honey market, which is forecast to be worth around A$1.27 billion (S$1.2 billion) in annual trade by 2027, with products containing the pricey sweetener selling between A$300 and A$500 per kilogram, according to the AMHA.

Manuka honey, sought after for its anti-bacterial properties and purported health benefits, is made by bees that pollinate the Leptospermum scoparium, or manuka tree, which grows throughout New Zealand and in some parts of Australia.

But MHAS claims the word “manuka” has a Maori origin, and therefore is a distinctive product of New Zealand, with Mr Rawcliffe saying differences in climate, surrounding plants and soil meant only the Kiwis could produce the true honey.

“Manuka is an Australian native plant and the term ‘manuka honey’ has long been used in Australia to describe this unique honey,” Mr Callander said. “Australian growers have every right to use the word to describe their produce, as upheld by the UK courts.”

MHAS has also attempted to trademark the term in New Zealand, the US and China. Actions in China and the US were thrown out, and are pending in New Zealand.  BLOOMBERG

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