Australian manuka honey caught up in red tape

The Australian manuka honey industry says it has been all but abandoned by the Government as it fights for survival, risking a $1.2 billion market and thousands of jobs.

With a landmark trademark court hearing on the use of the term ‘manuka honey’ just weeks away, the industry is yet to get any firm support from the Government, despite recent political commitments to invest in and grow Australian manufacturing.

Australian Manuka Honey Association (AMHA) says the lack of support is in stark contrast to the financial backing, currently in excess of NZ$1.4m, given by the New Zealand government to a breakaway group of NZ producers, who have applied for trademark protection of the term ‘manuka honey’ in a number of significant markets around the world.

“The very essence of our industry is under threat. With the NZ court hearing looming on 13 April, we are urgently calling on our Australian government to leverage all their relationships in New Zealand to negotiate an outcome that is in the best interests of both Australian and New Zealand producers and that avoids these costly legal disputes,” says AMHA Chairman Paul Callander.

“The Kiwis are trying to use international trade laws to shut down century old Australian honey producers.

“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.

“It is time for the Australian government to get involved and redirect the conversation. The ramifications of an adverse decision would be devastating and would affect our trade not just in NZ, but jeopardize all the international markets that we look to sell our Australian manuka honey. It would also set a precedent in the hijacking of a descriptive term, potentially adversely impacting on other products”.

Mr Callander says involvement in the industry extended far beyond manuka beekeepers, with thousands of Australians engaged in the industry through science, research, logistics, marketing, manufacturing and sales.

“Based on the proven science behind manuka honey we’ve particularly seen the growth of a thriving market in health, pharmacy, medical and beauty products using manuka honey – all those jobs are also at risk through this trademark action.”

NZ producers have sought certification trademark in the UK, US, Europe, NZ and China. Mr Callander argues that so far, no country has registered the trademark, with significant argument around whether it is possible to register what would normally be considered a descriptive term. He says 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,” says Mr Callander.

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