Australian honey makers say they will fight the granting by UK authorities of a trademark for Manuka honey to Kiwi producers.

The Australian Manuka Honey Association (AMHA) said it had engaged legal representation in the United Kingdom "who has been briefed to act swiftly in refuting the attempt to trade mark 'Manuka' – honey that has been produced in Australia naturally since records have been kept in the 1800's".

"Given our inability to take part in the UK trade mark registry conversations ... and the significance of the misinformation provided, legal action is our only option and not one we wished to pursue" said Paul Callander, managing director of Manuka Life and the Australian Manuka Honey Association's inaugural chairman.

By due process the UK Trade Mark Registry did not deal with other interested parties until after it decided to allow a trademark.

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Australia had more than 80 Manuka species and Australian Manuka had been shown to have exceptionally high levels of antibacterial activity, the AMHA said.

"UK law stipulates a period for interested parties to object and we propose to deliver submissions to the United Kingdom Trade Mark Registry vigorously opposing this application," Callander said.

In New Zealand the UMF Honey Association said the registry's acceptance of the term Manuka honey as a certification mark was a landmark decision.

Association spokesperson John Rawcliffe said the decision was a major milestone.

"This is a critical foundation stone, as we look to protect the term Manuka as being intrinsically intertwined with New Zealand and positioning our important Manuka honey industry in world markets," Rawcliffe said.

The decision was in respect of an application by the Manuka Honey Appellation Society, which represented most of the New Zealand industry, seeking a certification trade mark in respect of Manuka Honey from New Zealand.

UK authorities accepted that the term 'Manuka' would be seen as designating a specific plant variety grown in New Zealand. Picture / NZME
UK authorities accepted that the term 'Manuka' would be seen as designating a specific plant variety grown in New Zealand. Picture / NZME

The ruling confirmed the term Manuka honey as a badge of origin from a single geographical source "that being New Zealand", Rawcliffe said.

"The decision also notes that there would be no legitimate reason to use a name that is not common to another territory, other than for improper reasons such as to trade off the reputation built up by the producers of New Zealand."

The association said hearing officer Carol Bennett, who acted for the UK Trade Mark Registry, stated in her decision: "I have concluded that the term 'Manuka' is a Maori word that is used to refer to the plant know by the botanical term Leptospermum scoparium.

"The plant is grown in New Zealand and has been known by the common name 'Manuka' for some time. Although the plant Leptospermum scoparium is grown in areas outside of New Zealand, it is known by different 'common' names in those territories. Therefore, it is accepted that the term 'Manuka' would be seen as designating a specific plant variety grown in New Zealand."

Rawcliffe said a certification trade mark acted as a type of open standard, so any qualifying honey from New Zealand could use it.

"Next steps will be progressing the UK application through the rest of the registration procedure and continuing with further certification trade marks in other territories including China, USA and EU.

Comvita spokesperson Julie Chadwick said the company - New Zealand's biggest manuka honey exporter - supported Rawcliffe's comments.

"I guess the Aussies are going to have a crack at it, but at the end of the day, it's a win-win for us, and the consumers because everyone gets to know what they are buying," she said.

John Kippenberger, chief executive of Manuka Health, said the Australian reaction was not surprising given the interest in manuka honey across the Tasman.

"This underscores the importance of the collection of work that is going on in the industry and in the Government to support and further develop the brand around the world," he said.

He said the problem of "counterfeit" or adulterated New Zealand manuka honey arriving in key markets of the United Kingdom and parts of Asia remained an issue.

"Under the tighter definition that MPI has recently released, that is another positive step to remove the risk of adulteration of New Zealand manuka honey in key overseas markets," he said.

Last year, Rowse Honey, Britain's biggest honey company, said MPI had failed to prevent the UK from being flooded with fake product.

Rowse called for a revision of guidelines for the definition of manuka honey, after a report published in the UK trade magazine The Grocer.

The report said more manuka honey is sold around the globe than is exported by New Zealand - its sole source - and that sales in the UK alone account for more than New Zealand's total output, indicating that the UK market was flooded with fake product.