13 February 2018
UMFHA – 20 Years Strong
As the UMF Honey Association (UMFHA) celebrates a 20 years milestone since the UMF trademark was first unveiled in 1998, a lot has been achieved over the intervening years for the New Zealand Mānuka honey industry.
UMFHA spokesperson John Rawcliffe says the industry can be proud of the progress it’s made which includes an international science programme and a quality trademark that is recognised by consumers around the world.
“The UMFHA is the oldest industry body amongst those established within the beekeeping marketing sector. The Association can trace its roots back to the formation of the Active Mānuka Honey Association which was later rebranded as the UMFHA.”
Backed by the support of over 100 members, its achieved a lot including international standardised testing, independent product audits in key territories, a grading system that consumers can readily identify along with a unique quality trademark and an industry leading science and research programme.
John says it was this programme that was used to support recent discussions with MPI about its definition and standard for Mānuka honey.
“Long before that, however, our strategy to protect Mānuka and drive industry growth got underway in 2013 when a unanimous vote to fund the Mānuka ID project was recorded at the UMFHA AGM.”
The first ever widescale collection of nectar from New Zealand mono-floral plants was carried out from November 2014 to March 2015. This was a controlled collection from Mānuka bush located near beehive sites.
Research was then carried out by the Association which involved comparing the compounds present in the nectar collected from the Mānuka bush samples.
“During that process, more than 2,300 signature compounds were confirmed. These compounds, in combination, are unique to Mānuka honey. Further tests were carried out on the top 18 compounds. This led to the research team singling out three key signature compounds – Leptosperin (LS) Dihydroxyacetone and (DHA) Methylglyoxal (MG) – which can confirm whether a product is genuine Mānuka honey.”
John says the discovery of LS – a newly identified compound unique to Mānuka honey – was particularly important due to it being a stable, complicated molecule which is hard to make synthetically.
“This means it is an ideal marker of authenticity and is what currently sets the UMF grading system apart from anything else.”
In 2016, an international symposium called ‘This is Mānuka Honey’ was held in Auckland. It was an opportunity to show case the research and recognise the industry’s support of it.
John says while there’s been a lot achieved since 1998, there’s still a “world of opportunities out there”.
“We continue to face challengers around emerging technology, international competition and the fundamental requirement to meet customers’ needs. Technology is rapidly evolving with NMR spectroscopy, the emerging field of proteomics and others all coming into play.”
He says failing to protect the term Mānuka will result in it becoming a descriptor only, with challenges arising from territories claiming to grow a ‘superior’ product.
Having a strong working relationship with a regulatory authority that can meet these challenges head on is also essential for the consumer and those who have invested in this industry.
“We can’t assume foreign countries will just take our word on things – we need to be visibly good at honey science and close to consumers.”
John says providing a ‘living’ dataset that can ensure equivalency in enabling the emergence of new science to measure what is Mānuka honey is important.
“We need a national library of Mānuka and other honey samples that can serve as a reference point. We also need to strengthen New Zealand’s ability to engage regulatory defence in law and through relevant legislation with key trading partners.”
An example of this was the UK Trade Mark Registry’s landmark decision in December 2017 to accept the term Mānuka honey as a certification mark.
“That decision was a major milestone for all New Zealanders”
Hearing Officer Carol Bennett, who acts for the UK Trade Mark Registry, stated in her decision: “I have concluded that the term ‘Mānuka’ 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 ‘Mānuka’ 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 ‘Mānuka’ would be seen as designating a specific plant variety grown in New Zealand.”
John says this decision has given the New Zealand industry an important foundation stone to work from, as it looks to protect the term Mānuka in world markets.
The UK decision was made in respect of an application by the Mānuka Honey Appellation Society (representing most of the New Zealand industry) seeking a certification trademark in respect of Mānuka Honey from New Zealand.
“While there is still more work to do, the decision is fundamental in the process, as the application from the Mānuka Honey Appellation Society was fully examined and discussed at a senior level in the UK trade mark registry before the decision was issued.
John says 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.
The application also helped cement stronger relationships between the industry and Maori.
“It opened the door to greater consultation and engagement with Maori entities who have a key stake in how the word Mānuka is used and its importance to the Mānuka honey industry.”
At the start of 2018, the Federation of Maori Authorities held a hui in Wellington to which members of the beekeeping and honey industry were invited.
“It provided an invaluable forum to exchange ideas and gain support and unity in the face of MPI’s definition for Mānuka honey. At the end of that process and following a legal challenge by NZ Beekeeping, MPI changed its definition to one that was more in-line with what the industry had been asking for.”
John says his vision is for greater unity across the various industry bodies, Government, and industry.
“This is an important industry for New Zealand and it’s critical that we work together to achieve a win-win situation for all including consumers worldwide who appreciate the goodness and value of genuine Mānuka honey.”
For further information:
M: 027 441 8508