Beekeepers Celebrate Sweet Victory

Australian Manuka honey producers applaud UK High Court victory, as New Zealand group backs down on ownership claims to the naming rights of ‘Manuka honey’.

Australian Manuka honey growers have welcomed the collapse of legal proceedings in the United Kingdom and Europe that leave them free to sell their produce in those jurisdictions under the globally-recognised “Manuka” name.

New Zealand’s Manuka Honey Appellation Society (MHAS) discontinued its High Court appeal in the UK just days before Christmas, meaning the UK Intellectual Property Office’s previous rejection of MHAS’s application to trademark the words “Manuka honey” would stand. Weeks earlier, the New Zealand producers also withdrew their application for the ‘Manuka Honey’ certification mark in the European Union.

The Australian Manuka Honey Association (AMHA) shared the positive news with Australian beekeepers today, noting the withdrawal of proceedings had enormous significance for the thousands of Australians working in the honey industry.

AMHA chairman Paul Callander said: “For five years, the AMHA has been battling the New Zealand MHAS in multiple jurisdictions over their attempts to trademark the term Manuka as exclusively their own. The MHAS backdown means the UK IPO ruling of December 2021 in Australian beekeepers’ favour stands, and there is no restraint or trademark on Manuka naming rights.”

The international Manuka honey market is forecast to be worth around $1.27 billion in annual trade by 2027, and Manuka honey products can sell for between A$300-500 per kilo. Mr Callander said there was growing demand for the product both for consumption and for use in medicinal and wellbeing products, and the greater certainty in the UK and Europe would allow Australian Manuka growers to enjoy their share of this demand.

“This victory provides our industry with a noble precedent against some in New Zealand who are attempting to monopolise the term Manuka Honey for their own commercial gain,” Mr Callander said. “Manuka is an Australian native plant and the term Manuka honey has long been used in Australia to describe this unique honey. Australian growers have every right to use the word to describe their produce, as upheld by the UK Courts.”

“Clearly there has been a change of thinking by the New Zealand group, and hopefully we can spend our time and money working together to promote this wonderful medicinal honey to the world, rather than fighting over naming rights.”

The New Zealand MHAS will be liable for costs, pursuant to procedural rules in the UK. “Frustratingly, the AMHA have spent a lot of time and money on the preparation of a detailed response to the appeal, which was already filed when the surrender occurred,” Mr Callander said. “I do hope our efforts led somewhat to the MHAS re-thinking their position.”

Mr Callander added that the support from the Australian government departments of Trade and Agriculture had been very strong for a long time in helping to nurture and grow Australia’s Manuka industry. “Some of this has been in the form of grants to develop products for the medical, pharmaceutical and health industries as well as development of elite clonal genetics to produce high grade Manuka honey plantations across the country.”

“The Attorney General’s office assisted us with funding to allow us to continue to fight further legal engagements, which increased our capability to defend our industry. This support rallied our resolve at a time when the Australian beekeeping industry had expended significant amounts of money mounting defences in various jurisdictions.”

The AMHA is still awaiting the outcome of a New Zealand trademark application by MHAS that was heard by the NZ IPO in 2021. The Australian producers mounted a similar defence in New Zealand to their position in the UK and EU hearings.

Contact us for further information or media enquiries at info@manukaaustralia.org.au.

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