National | Food

Hui across the country to help Māori protect Mānuka honey

Hui are being held around the country in an effort to help Māori protect Mānuka honey in the global marketplace.

Mānuka Charitable Trust is hosting the meetings, which have already started in Northland and will be rolling out in Hamilton, Rotorua, Taupō, Whakatāne, Gisborne, Whanganui, Nelson and Christchurch over the next few months. They will be for technicians and experts, working with iwi, hapū, trusts and incorporations, Mānuka beekeepers and kaitiaki to give them the opportunity to register for updates and feedback on the engagement process.

Trust chair Victor Goldsmith says it is vital for Māori to protect Mānuka.

“It’s the first taonga that’s gone global and we’ve got no template so, as indigenous people, we're looking for any other models that we could replicate but there are none. So we are the first and we need to set the platform and the foundation for any other taonga that may go global in the future.”

Legal action

The trust also has funding from the government's Provincial Growth Fund to take legal action to stop Australian beekeepers from marketing their products as Mānuka honey.

“We will be going into a hearing with the New Zealand Intellectual Property Office next month and so that will be with the first time that Mānuka will be in front of essentially a hearing to protect our taonga. So it’s really, really important for Māori as we try to protect our taonga internationally because you have to protect it in New Zealand before you can protect it outside.”

Goldsmith says Mānuka has cultural significance because the word Mānuka is Māori.

“Secondly, Māori have a cultural connection to Mānuka based on our whakapapa. As we know, Tane Mahuta separated his parents Ranginui and Papatuānuku and through his various unions he gave rise to Mānuka and all the other native species. So, from a whakapapa perspective, we are intrinsically linked to Mānuka and as the kaitiaki it is our responsibility to protect our taonga, starting with Manuka.”

In July last year, Goldsmith told Te Ao that the Mānuka Honey Appellation Society filed the application for certification trademark in the United Kingdom in 2015.

“We were successful in 2018. So the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office made the ruling that mānuka was a Māori world and that Mānuka can only come from honey producers in New Zealand. The Australians promptly objected to that.

Goldsmith says Mānuka has a lot of medicinal qualities including antibacterial, anti-inflammatory properties. Mānuka honey sells for as much as $400/kg.

"We’ve been marketing honey for a number of years and all of a sudden the Australians believe they have a very similar Tea Tree. So it is about money. It is the most expensive honey in the world and I think they want a slice of the pie. So we’ve got this mischief happening over in Australia that’s only just recent. It doesn’t go back to the 1800s.”

He says the hearing will be held in the UK in late April or May this year.

The Australian beekeepers have been arguing that since the species of tea tree is the same in Australia in New Zealand, they can use Mānuka for the resulting honey.