The United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office ruled late last year that NZ producers did not have an exclusive claim to the trademark mānuka honey.
New Zealand honey producers are remaining steadfast in their intention to maintain control over the term mānuka honey, as they lodge an appeal against a ruling made by the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office.
The office ruled late last year that NZ producers did not have an exclusive claim to the trademark mānuka honey.
That ruling had been prompted when earlier protection the office had granted was challenged by Australian honey producers. Their members claimed they too had rights to the term “mānuka honey.”
In their decision declining exclusive rights, the office ruled there was a “lack of definition” around what constituted mānuka honey and a lack of understanding of what the health benefits were of NZ-sourced mānuka honey.
But the appeal has NZ producers leaning in heavily to protect what has grown to be a $340 million a year export trade, with the UK and China the key markets.
The prospects for the UK market were even brighter after last year’s free trade deal announcement, with honey one of the biggest winners from tariff reductions on exports.
Mānuka Honey Appellation Society spokesperson John Rawcliffe said the UK consumer was being sold short if they had access to Australian-sourced mānuka honey that previously had almost zero foothold in the UK market.
“It is a case that for 20-plus years they have been buying manuka honey from NZ. What will they get if they start buying Australian ‘mānuka’ honey, it is a whole different product and even tastes different,” Rawcliffe said.
The appellants are also claiming declining exclusive status to NZ producers impinges on indigenous rights and is out of step with existing IP frameworks aimed to protect those rights.
Pita Tipene, chair of the Mānuka Charitable Trust set up as guardians of the mānuka taonga on behalf of iwi across NZ, said mānuka is from te reo Māori and itself a taonga the group had a responsibility to protect.
“We strongly support the UK consumer to understand that mānuka honey is a product of Aotearoa NZ. These customers know in purchasing mānuka honey over the last 20 years that mānuka is a Māori word originating from Aotearoa NZ and that’s what makes it so unique,” Tipene said.
The appeal points out NZ is the only country in the world with government regulated export definition for honey sourced from indigenous mānuka trees. MPI standards have been enforced over the last few years to ensure the use of the phrase reflects those test standards.
In 2019, the Mānuka Honey Appellation Society was granted $5.7m through the Provincial Growth Fund, including a $1.7m loan to help in its bid to secure international trademark rights.
Efforts to have the term mānuka honey trademark protected were going to be extended to other trade partners, particularly the United States and China.