Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Kiwi beekeepers tell English honey producers: 'You can't call it manuka'

The New Zealand manuka honey industry has told an English company it can't call its honey manuka.
The New Zealand manuka honey industry has told an English company it can't call its honey manuka.

An English country estate cashing in on the lucrative manuka honey market has been given a stinging riposte by Kiwi beekeepers who say, "You can't call it manuka."

Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall, southwest England, has been growing manuka bush, imported from New Zealand, on its grounds for more than a century.

It has claimed to be the only place outside of New Zealand to produce manuka honey, the famed superfood endorsed by celebrities including tennis ace Novak Djokovic and actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Scarlett Johansson and heralded for its medicinal and antibacterial qualities.

Now, Tregothnan Estate, which sells small tubs for $50 in high-end London stores, has vowed to produce the world's "purest" manuka honey.

"Next summer we will attempt to ensure that our bees only gather manuka nectar," managing director Jonathon Jones told US radio portfolio, Marketplace.

"Using insect nets, we will try to enclose the bees on our bushes so they produce 100 per cent, mono-floral manuka honey."

But the English company's venture has drawn the ire of New Zealand beekeepers who are desperate to protect their booming industry.

"With respect to the gentleman, good on him for taking the opportunity and giving it a go, and all the best to him, however, please don't call it manuka," Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) Honey Association John Rawcliffe told the Herald today.

"Calling it manuka is like us taking a grape or vine from France and calling the wine 'champagne' - it's not champagne. I can't take water and barley from Scotland and call it whisky.

"Manuka is a Maori word and the consumer, if you ask them, wants the imagery, the thoughts, the feeling they get that this product comes from New Zealand."

UMF, which represents a group of beekeepers, producers and exporters that account for 75-80 per cent of New Zealand's manuka honey sales, last year applied to the Government to trademark the name, manuka.

It says the move is key to "protecting an internationally recognised premium product that is unique to New Zealand".

If approved, Tregothnan Estate would not be able to use the name manuka, UMF says.

As it is, UMF believes that the name is already protected and has contacted intellectual property offices overseas to investigate its use outside New Zealand.

"We are trying to impart those rules," says Rawcliffe.

"We need to protect our industry. If we want to go from a commodity country, to being unique, boutique, added value ... then these are the tools we need to use."

A similar stoush was sparked earlier this year after Australian beekeepers claimed New Zealand did not have a monopoly on the manuka honey brand which fetches huge money and is exported for around $150 per kg.

The manuka bush, Leptospermum scoparium, is also called tea tree, jelly bush, and red damask and grows across the Tasman.

The UMF accepts that Australia produces top-quality honey but it cannot accurately claim to call it 'manuka honey' - a stance the Australians say they will challenge.

- NZ Herald

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