New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters, is threatening to stir up a bees’ nest over Australia’s right to use the term manuka honey.
Mr Peters has told visitors to the big NZ Fieldays, Australia was selling “seriously inferior” honey under the manuka label.
He could not see why apiarists and marketers across the Tasman Sea should be allowed to get away with it.
“We want to defend our best honey markets from being diluted by Australian product,” he said while attending the opening day of the southern hemisphere’s biggest agribusiness event in his capacity as acting Prime Minister.
Mr Peters is in the top job for the next six weeks while Jacinda Ardern takes maternity leave.
Australia has 82 different tea tree varieties, but not one which counts as manuka,
NZ’s thriving export manuka honey trade, derived from a specific tea tree flower (leptospermum scoparium), is worth more than $165 million a year and the value could likely be double that within a decade according to the country’s apiary industry.
The honey’s real appeal is its value as a wound dressing and in medical creams and cosmetics, but it is also perceived to have special health food attributes.
Mr Peters acknowledged Australia also had many tea tree varieties capable of producing a similar pollen and honey, but they did not duplicate the quality of the NZ product.
“Australia has 82 different tea tree varieties, but not one which counts as manuka,” he said.
“Manuka is special to NZ.”
The name also has Maori origins and NZ campaigners say consumers expect honey carrying the manuka label should be from NZ.
“Personally, at a government level, I want to see Australia’s use of the word challenged,” Mr Peters said.
Huge cost to NZ
“At an international level this represents a huge potential cost to our industry.
“We’ve wasted three and a half years getting a standard established and now we have others, including our nearest neighbour, coming into the market with seriously inferior product.”
The NZ honey lobby argues Australian manuka honey has less than half the attributes that qualify for NZ manuka and it has subsequently begun a trademark application for rights to the name.
It also wants government help to fight for NZ to hold geographical indication rights in much the same French wine regions have won back exclusivity to names such as Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne.
However, the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council has committed $50,000 to help promote global awareness of manuka honey’s Australian credentials.
The money will go towards the Australian Manuka Honey Association’s fight against its NZ rivals’ attempt to globally register the word as their own.
The Australian industry argues the manuka tea tree variety actually originated from Tasmania.
The NZ’s acting PM, Mr Peters was one of about 130,000 visitors expected to visit this year’s 50th Fieldays near Hamilton over four days this week.
A big contingent of Australians, including agribusiness company representatives and about 60 members from field days committees across the country, have also crossed the Tasman to attend the golden jubilee event
Last year Fieldays generated about $500m in sales, and during the past 49 years about $16b in revenue is estimated to have been credited to the big farm industry and export market showcase.
The Mystery Creek field days site covers 114 hectares and employs 38 full time staff, supported by up to 300 volunteers during Fieldays.
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