Primary Industries

Australia quiet on trans-Tasman mānuka honey row

New Zealand honey growers appear to have so far avoided the heavy hand of the Australian government in their dispute with apiarists across the Tasman.

There had been fears that Canberra would intercede on behalf of honey producers in Australia but so far, nothing has come of it.

The issue arose after producers of mānuka honey here sought trademark protection for their product and won some government support, generating a hostile response in Australia.

Growers here have long argued that mānuka was a Māori word and so mānuka honey was unquestionably a New Zealand product.

They said it was unfair for apiarists in Australia to use the label mānuka on honey produced across the Tasman.

But Australia's honey producers refused to budge.

As a result, the Mānuka Honey Appellation Society spent more than $2 million in legal fees, seeking trademark recognition for New Zealand mānuka honey in China, the United States, European Union, United Kingdom and at home in New Zealand.

The New Zealand government then announced the Provincial Growth Fund would help out with legal costs to the tune of $5.7m.

That led Australian growers to seek help from their own Federal Government to combat what they said was political interference in Wellington.

Australian Minister of Agriculture Bridget McKenzie was then quoted in media as saying she would be seeking clarification from the New Zealand government.

She further pledged support in a short statement to RNZ.

But a month later, no request for clarification has been received from Senator McKenzie.

In fact, New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has had no communication from the Senator at all.

When asked about this by RNZ, the Senator's office reiterated her strong support for the Australian food industry, but pointed out that trade mark applications were a commercial matter.

So far, the only political comment from Canberra has been a passing reference to it from Australia's Trade Minister Simon Birmingham during trade talks in Thailand.

The Australian growers have long said they produced honey from the same species of tree as mānuka: Leptospermum scoparium.

They argued New Zealand growers were being precious in claiming it for themselves, and urged producers in both countries to join forces and promote their honey together.

New Zealand growers refused and said Leptospermum scoparium evolved differently here over millions of years.

They added that if Australians wanted to use a common term to market their honey, they should use the everyday Australian name for Leptospermum scoparium: Tea Tree.

This article was originally published on RNZ and re-published with permission.

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