There's a fight Down Under over manuka honey, the so-called superfood famed for its antibacterial qualities. On one side, New Zealand beehive owners say they should have exclusive rights to the manuka name. On the other, Australian producers say the manuka tree that gives the sticky stuff its name is an Aussie native and their honey is just as super as its Kiwi cousin.
- The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Aug 2016
You couldn't make it up, could you? To recap, there is a campaign underway in New Zealand to restrict the use of the name Manuka Honey to New Zealand, on the basis that the word "manuka" is a Maori word.
Manuka is the name in Maori of the nectar of the mānuka tree or Leptospermum Scoparium, which after being found in New Zealand, was also found in Southeastern Australia, it is this flower which bees visit, which makes Manuka honey distinct from regular old normal Honey. The interesting thing is that there is a suburb in Canberra called Manuka which is also named after the plant and for lack of a different word in Australia, the same plant inherited the same name.
I'm not going to hide my contempt here because I think that it is utterly ridiculous that this is even being entertained and here's why.
Usually names if they are to be protected, are done so on a regional basis. Champagne for instance, can not be called champagne unless it comes from the Champagne region of France; otherwise it is just sparkling wine. Balsamic Vinegar Of Modena must come from the region surrounding Modena in Italy. Newcastle Brown Ale even has a protection order upon it, though that is somewhat clouded, and in theory must come from Newcastle Upon Tyne. Manuka, isn't a region or even a place and so, how can it possibly be held under a regional name protection order? It makes more sense that Hereford Beef should come from Hereford because at least Hereford is a real place; unlike Manuka which although is a real place, is not in New Zealand.
I can understand New Zealand's whinge because Australia has been pinching things from its annoying little brother since ages ago. Australia is world famous in New Zealand for stealing Kiwiana and passing it off as our own. Just think about Russell Crowe, the Finn Brothers and the Pavlova. We'll gladly take credit for them even though they came from New Zealand and not Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald's "Australian Of The Century" in 1999 was Sir Donald Bradman which is understandable but in second place was Phar Lap, who wasn't Australian but a New Zealander (and a horse).
We've been linked together as a pair of feuding brothers since before we were both nations. Australia and New Zealand fought alongside each other in the Boer War and New Zealand is mentioned in the Australian Constitution and would have been part of Australia if they had passed the referendum. After gaining nationhood, we continued to fight in World War I, at places like Gallipoli, the Somme and Ypres, as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps or ANZAC; both nations celebrate ANZAC Day. Our two flags look too much like each other for comfort and many major firms do business on both sides of the ditch.
That still doesn't change the fact that when it comes to things like the Bledisloe Cup, the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games and the cricket, we are the best of enemies and the worst of friends.
It doesn't surprise me that there would be a claim from New Zealand on the name Manuka Honey but it kind of ignores one little thing - the English language is a vulture.
The English language stole words from everywhere it's been. The words buffalo, pyjama, jubilee, samurai, orange, banana, potato, kangaroo, billabong, have all been pilfered and put to service in the great behemoth of the English language. The word "manuka" might very well be a specific word to describe a specific thing but I just don't think that it means that the word belongs to the Maori as a thing that can be owned anymore. The word has jumped the fence, left the pasture and has joined the long paddock along with the other words; once it has escaped, I don't think it will ever be tamed again.
This also leads to an interesting dilemma. Suppose that the word "manuka" is wrangled for New Zealand use only, does that mean that businesses in the suburb of Manuka in Canberra should be forced to abandon their names? What if through some bizarre coincidence (which might become a test case), that there was an apirist in the suburb of Manuka, then what? Would a business called Manuka Honey which was from Manuka be forced to change the name of its product even though Manuka Honey was honey that came from Manuka? Would a regional claim which isn't based on the name of a region, hold legal weight over a claim that wasn't based on a region but certainly had a sense of place? Such a thing would be even more specific than just a regional claim.
The obvious question which immediately arises from this is what do you call that particular kind of honey which is made from the flowers of the manuka plant if you cannot use the word "manuka"? Other varieties are named after the plants and flowers which the bees visit, like Tasmanian Box and Redgum, so then what? I don't think that the people making the claim over the word "manuka" care even one iota about the consequences which will be wreaked; nor will they be left with the problem of coming up with a marketable alternative. It seems even more insidious that if the legal claim is successful, then you can't use a descriptor to describe the thing which needs describing.
I hope that the courts who end up deciding the fate of this, come to the proper conclusion that this is facetious and throw it out on its ear. I personally hope that this campaign fails and falls headlong into a vat of sweet sweet goo. Otherwise, this is just going to leave a bad taste in our mouths.