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Sticky business: Honey wars explained

Eliza Bavin
·2-min read
A background of manuka honey in a wooden spoon with a manuka flowers.
(Source: Getty)

New Zealand manuka honey producers have applied for a trademark to protect the term ‘manuka’ being used by any other producers.

However, the Australian Manuka Honey Association (AMHA) said the trademark application threatens Australia’s century-old manuka honey business.

Manuka honey comes from the nectar of Leptospermum trees, which are native to both Australia and New Zealand - and this point is what’s causing contention.

AMHA chair Paul Callander said the trademark application, which is being put before the court today, is causing the essence of the Australian manuka honey industry to be in threat.

“The Kiwis are trying to use international trade laws to shut down century-old Australian honey producers,” Callander said.

“We should be aiming for collaboration, not confrontation, as we do in so many other areas with our friends across the Tasman.

“Our time would be more productively spent promoting Australian manuka honey and NZ manuka honey to global markets, forecast to be worth $1.27 billion annually by 2027.”

According to manuka honey is specialised in that it’s antibacterial and bacterial resistant, meaning that bacteria shouldn’t be able to build up a tolerance to its antibacterial effects.

Manuka honey is said to be effective for treating a range of things from a sore throat to clearing up blemishes on your skin.

New Zealand producers have also sought the trademark in the United Kingdom, United States, Europe, NZ and China.

As it stands, no country has registered the trademark as there is an argument around whether it is possible to register something that could be considered a descriptive term.

The AMHA said the term manuka has been used in Australia since the 1800s and the Australian industry has invested significantly for years in manuka honey science, research and marketing.

“This is a term that was used first in Tasmania, for a product derived from a Tasmanian native plant,” Callander said.

Understanding trademarks

Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors (ABLA) associate Louise Blair explains that trademarks are typically used by businesses to protect their brand.

“The name of your business immediately comes to mind. However, there are likely to be other things, like your logo or a tagline (which may be a phrase you use as branding),” Blair said.

“You may also have named particular goods or named particular services which you use as branding to attract, and promote your, business.”

Blair said a business, or individual, can formally protect any words, numbers, letters, phrases, shape, colour or aspect of it’s packaging which identify your goods or services from those of another trader.

In the end, it will be up to the courts to decide whether Australian producers will be able to continue using the word to describe their product.

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