NEW ZEALAND – Honey producers in New Zealand have lost the fight to trademark their honey using the term manuka with Australian producers.

Manuka refers to a tree with white flowers that grows both in New Zealand and Australia. The bees which collect nectar from these trees produce a type of honey claimed to have antibacterial properties, giving the manuka honey a higher price in the market.

The case was primarily put forward by New Zealand’s Mānuka Honey Appellation Society (MHAS), which has been attempting to trademark honey from New Zealand since 2015.

The Australian Manuka Honey Association (AMHA) responded to the claims by opposing the trademarking attempt.

In the ruling, the case was described as “one of the most complex and long-running proceedings to have come before IPONZ,” calling the fight “a trans-Tasman tussle of extraordinary proportions.”

After establishing the MHAS fell short “of establishing the necessary distinctiveness, both inherent and acquired,” the IPONZ said: “Savvy marketing by Australian honey producers does not equate to dishonest trading on their part.”

“A trademark that is descriptive of goods, and therefore not distinctive, cannot be registered for those goods unless the trademark has acquired distinctiveness, either through use or any other circumstance.”

The IPONZ further ordered the MHAS to pay NZ$6,430 (US$4,025) in costs to the AMHA. Australian industry players welcomed the decision as a “commonsense outcome” and issued a press release saying they had plans to grow international sales in response to rising demand.

Australian Manuka Honey Association chairman Ben McKee said he was “delighted” by the ruling.

“Our product has a long history of being recognized as manuka honey, it is produced like the NZ product is, and it also offers the sought-after antimicrobial properties that consumers around the world value so highly,” he said.

For more than a decade, the two countries have been at loggerheads over the use of the mānuka name–a Māori word, that New Zealand argues is an indigenous treasure, uniquely associated with its honey production.

Pita Tipene, Chair of the Manuka Charitable Trust, said the decision was “disappointing in so many ways” and pointed out that the trust would pause to regroup, before continuing its battle.

At the highest concentrations, some New Zealand batches have fetched up to NZ$2,000 to $5,000 for a 250g jar at luxury stores overseas.

The lucrative nature of the product has been responsible for outbreaks of crime in New Zealand, with fierce competition over access to mānuka forests spurring mass poisonings of bees, thefts, vandalism, and beatings.

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