Saving the manuka brand

The word manuka is under threat from a New Zealand trademarking attempt. Pictured is Blue Hills Honey’s Robbie Charles during harvest.

Market. Blue Hills Honey, like other producers around the country, is awaiting the verdict on whether it may continue to use the word manuka for its product.

The industry was stung into action recently following a move by New Zealand producers to trademark the word manuka.

In response, the Australian Manuka Honey Association (AMHA) was formed to formally oppose any attempts to monopolise international naming or market rights.

This group will focus its efforts on four specific areas including product promotion, accuracy in labelling, protection of plant material and fostering growth of the local industry, according to inaugural chairman Paul Callander.

“Despite the fact the plant grows natively in Australia and we produce 100 per cent manuka honey here in Australia, New Zealand honey producers have countered that the word, the plant and the honey are all 100 per cent Kiwi derived,” Mr Callander says.

“The fact is New Zealand has only one species of manuka, whereas Australia has more than 80 manuka species, including a number of sources with exceptionally high levels of antibacterial activity.

“What is even more amusing about their trademark claim against Australia is that the one Leptospermum species used in New Zealand to produce manuka honey has been shown to have migrated from Australia. Most likely from Tasmania, where it grows naturally and has been involved in honey production since colonisation and the introduction of the European honey bee in 1831.”

Should the trademarking attempt be passed, the AMHA will have the opportunity to appeal the decision.

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“It will not be a cheap fight,” says Nicola Charles, managing director at Blue Hills Honey.

Considering 30 per cent of seasonally adjusted income is from manuka sales, the impact would be severe for the Mawbanna business.

Acting as an advisory to the AMHA board, Mrs Charles has been collating information on the history of the honey and its prevalence in Tasmania.

She has learned the term manuka has been used since 1884, dating back to early mining exploration days in the state’s west.

“Historically it was honey that we didn’t want to get,” she says, as the whiter the honey the more money it fetched. Now the darker varieties are regarded as having greater health benefits, or nutraceutical values.

“The argument is that it’s a Maori word [but] it was anglicised into our dialect a long time ago.

“It’s a descriptive term – such as hoover for vacuum – for a particular type of honey from our Leptospermum shrub.”

In recent years her team has hosted New Zealand beekeepers, showing them these plants growing in the local bush.

“The other thing I am concerned about is why didn’t they put in for this earlier – 20 to 25 years earlier?”

She says she believes this is an attempt to “cut off any competition”.

“They shouldn’t see Australia as competitors, the demand for manuka honey is insatiable.

“We should be working together like we’ve done historically, it goes against all mateship.”

Last month, Tamanian Liberal Senators Richard Colbeck and David Bushby along with federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud announced $165,000 to AMHA under the Agricultural Trade and Market Access Cooperation program to support the cause.

Meanwhile, Shadow Minister for Manufacturing and Science Nick Champion and Federal Member for Braddon Justine Keay visited Mawbanna to show their support for the campaign against the trademarking.

In other news, Blue Hills Honey was recently awarded gold at the World Quality Selections in Belgium for its leatherwood variety.

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