Kiwi and Aussie bee spit moguls face off
Australia and New Zealand have found another silly-seeming reason to squabble with one another. Manuka honey, considered a "superfood" that has antibacterial properties, is a go-to product for athletes like tennis player Novak Djokovich and Kourtney Kardashian. Earlier this week, New Zealand beekeepers lobbied for an exclusive trademark on manuka honey, which would effectively bar any other country from using the manuka name for their products. This didn't go over too well with Australian bee wranglers, who also claim that manuka honey from their country is every bit as good as that made by their neighbors to the east.
Why the big bee hubbub? Money, of course. Manuka honey fetches big bucks in China, where the country's burgeoning middle class has developed a taste for the product. By levying an exclusive trademark on manuka honey, New Zealand apiarists can cut out competitors from the Land Down Under, effectively barring them from using the name. And since no one would be caught dead with off-brand honey (the horror!), the Kiwi honey farmers could reap the benefits of the product's soaring popularity with near exclusivity.
Comvita, a leading manuka honey manufacturer which is based in New Zealand, reported a 15-month profit of roughly $13.5 million last week. Half of this tally came from sales to Chinese consumers. The Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association, a New Zealand trade association, claims that their country should have exclusive rights to the manuka moniker. The UMF submitted a trademark application to the New Zealand government last year, claiming that the effort was "fundamental to protecting an internationally recognized premium product that is unique to New Zealand."
But not so fast, say Aussie beekeepers. Manuka honey is made from the pollen of a shrub-like tea tree known as Leptospermum scoparium. Also known as the manuka tree, Leptospermum scoparium is indigenous to both Australia and New Zealand, meaning that manuka honey might not be all that specific to New Zealand after all. Trevor Weatherhead, the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council's executive director, said that New Zealand has no basis for a monopoly on the manuka honey industry. "We have exactly the same plant that they have," Weatherhead said.
If New Zealand's honey farmers are successful, they could shut out Australian beekeepers from labeling their wares as manuka honey. No official verdict has come down quite yet, but we imagine that the debate looks a bit like this scene from Flight of the Conchords: