Honey industry say govt should help fund mānuka trademark

By Moana Makapelu Lee
  • Wellington

Victor Goldsmith, General Manager for Ngāti Porou Miere Ltd, says it's imperative New Zealand helps to invest the $6mil required to trademark 'mānuka honey'.

This follows a meeting yesterday evening where industry leaders told government officials that the industry, worth $180mil, requires a trademark and a Geographical Indication in order to protect local businesses and the native species of tea tree.          

The New Zealand honey industry and Australian marketers have been locked in a dispute for three years over rights to the term mānuka.  Now, industry leaders say it will take ten years and they want the government to help.

Goldsmith says, "This is one of our iconic New Zealand brands and like champagne- that's protected by legislation- and we believe from a New Zealand perspective that the government should get behind and protect it.”

“They should fund it or part-fund it and the industry doesn't mind using a levy system or whatever it might be to also fund it."

An application by the Mānuka Honey Appellation Society seeking a certification trademark in the UK was upheld by the UK Trade Mark Registry.  Hearing Officer Carol Bennett upheld the term mānuka was a Māori word and that the term would be seen as “designating a specific plant variety grown in New Zealand.”

Goldsmith says, "The fight is coming from the Australians who are now trying to appeal the decision of the UK Registry and the implications of that decision is that they can't export their honey into the UK and call it mānuka honey."

It's not just the Aussies seeking rights to the Māori term. Paraguay and Argentina are just two other countries growing and selling ‘mānuka’ products.

New Zealand honey industry forecasts honey growth will be worth $1bill within the next 15 years but Goldsmith says if significant steps aren't taken the New Zealand market will devalue and local producers, many of whom are Māori, will be stung.

"Shane Jones is going around talking about regional economic development. You can't have anything better than this."

But the Minister of Regional Development Jones doesn't see the funding meeting the costs.

 “I don’t see a role for the Provincial Growth Fund in meeting the costs of trademarking the mānuka brand.”

"I know there are concerns about property rights and trademarks and New Zealand exporters going to China.”

“My preference has been to support the infrastructure about mānuka growers, but on the Māori side I want them to work together.”

The industry is looking to secure certification trademarks in the US and China.