17 Dec 2021

Mānuka honey trademark bid: UK ruling 'insulting to Māori and our culture', says trust

11:06 am on 17 December 2021

A group of New Zealand honey producers working to trademark the term mānuka honey say they are considering their options, after the United Kingdom rejected their application.

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(File image) Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The Manuka Honey Appellation Society began the process of trademarking the words in 2015, but in 2020, the Mānuka Charitable Trust was established to take over the effort.

With funding help from the government, it is working to trademark the word mānuka in international markets, so that only honey from New Zealand can be called mānuka.

This week the UK intellectual Property Office rejected the application.

The Mānuka Charitable Trust said it was disappointed and was considering its options following the decision.

Trust chair Pita Tipene said this was an indigenous rights issue and was out of step with existing indigenous intellectual property frameworks.

Ngāti Hine leader Pita Tipene

Mānuka Charitable Trust chair Pita Tipene Photo: RNZ

"Mānuka is our Māori reo and a precious taonga that we must honour and protect," Tipene said.

"This ruling ignores the role of iwi as kaitiaki and is insulting to Māori and our culture."

The trust argued mānuka honey refers to honey that comes from the nectar of the Leptospermum scoparium tree in Aotearoa New Zealand and has unique properties that are not found in honey produced in other countries.

"We remain strongly of the view that it is misleading to consumers for honey producers outside of Aotearoa New Zealand to claim the name mānuka honey when the plant the nectar came from did not grow in Aotearoa."

Tipene said New Zealand was the only country in the world that has a formal scientific definition for honey derived from mānuka, which is regulated by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

"This definition requires that all honey exported from New Zealand under the name mānuka honey meets test requirements, ensuring it is unadulterated and true to labelling.

"For consumers, it means that they can easily differentiate genuine honey produced in New Zealand from our mānuka trees, or an alternative product from another country."

Certification trademarks are also being sought in New Zealand, United States, Europe and China.