Mānuka honey battle: New Zealand, Britain, Australia in trademark fight

Britain has become embroiled in a bitter international legal battle over who is entitled to produce mānuka honey, The Telegraph can reveal.

The British honey manufacturer Rowse has instructed lawyers to fight an application by the New Zealand Mānuka Honey Appellation Society to trademark both the “mānuka honey” name as well as what actually constitutes the costly superfood.

It is understood the MHAS want to ensure only honey from New Zealand can carry the title.

But the move could drive up prices of the already expensive superfood, famous for its antimicrobial, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. A single jar can cost hundreds of dollars.

The honey takes its name from the Māori word for leptospermum scoparium, a flowering shrub European honey bees forage on to make the honey.

While the mānuka tree, also known as a tea tree, grows uncultivated in New Zealand and Australia, it has also been grown in the UK for the production of mānuka honey.

The honey has proven particularly popular in the UK after celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Kourtney Kardashian and tennis star Novak Djokovic have praised its superfood properties.

The New Zealand Government has funded a major campaign to protect its country’s production of the honey by filing a series of trademark certifications in Britain, the United States, Europe and China.

The move has enraged Australian mānuka producers who lodged opposition papers alongside Rowse’s documents with the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

In 2017, the IPO approved the certification trademark, a mechanism used to ensure a product using a specific name meets strict requirements. Woolmark is a famous certification trademark which guarantees a product is made entirely from pure new wool.

The IPO will hold a hearing into the dispute in the next few months.

Jonathan Jones, managing director of trading at Tregothnan, a Cornish country garden estate which has produced mānuka honey for 20 years, said: “If they want our mānuka trees back then we want our European bees back also. You can’t make mānuka honey without European honey bees. So, the honey is as much European as it is from New Zealand.

“The Kiwis and Australians need to calm down with a good cup of our tea and accept that we will continue to sell our unique mānuka floral honey.”

A spokesperson for Rowse said: “While we currently only source our mānuka honey from New Zealand and are a significant purchaser of high-quality New Zealand mānuka honey, Rowse believes this certification trademark application would have a negative impact on competition, restrict global supply and potentially ultimately result in significant price increases, for UK consumers.”

The Australian Mānuka Honey Association (AMHA) has even been asked by New Zealand to rename its product “tea tree honey”.

Paul Callander, AMHA chairman, said: “If we lose the right to use the word mānuka on honey, all producers in Australia would have to rebrand, and the cost of that would be astronomical.”

Holland & Barrett recently adopted “stringent guidelines” to reassure customers they only sold “genuine New Zealand mānuka honey”. The production of fake products saw the retailer employ a scientific laboratory to conduct “authenticity testing” to prove their products are pure.

New Zealand manufacturers have insisted their honey contains some of the highest levels of methylglyoxal (MGO), the active antibacterial ingredient in mānuka honey.

They say they require a hectare of dense mānuka trees to be able to produce 25kg of honey.

New Zealand’s authorities have already obtained a UK-wide trademark for the “Unique Mānuka Factor”, the grading system measuring the MGO concentration in mānuka honey.

John Rawcliffe, of the Unique Mānuka Factor Association, recently said: “In the mind of the consumer, mānuka represents a badge of origin that it comes from New Zealand.”

Tregothnan boasts it introduced mānuka trees to the world, initially as ornamental bushes which were popular because of their white flowers.

The estate has more than 100,000 bees housed in 50 special hives, and charges £45 for a standard 227g jar and £225 for a limited edition 420g jar of mānuka floral honey.

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