Rooibos protection one step closer

Cape Town - The publication of rules governing the use of the name Rooibos is a first step in preventing its misuse and achieving international protection for the iconic South African plant, said the South African Rooibos Council.

The rules, published in terms of the Merchandise Marks Act, detail how and when the terms Rooibos, Red Bush, Rooibostee, Rooibos Tea and Rooibosch may be used.

This is the first regulation to protect the use of the name and is the culmination of the SA Rooibos Council’s years of research, collating information and lobbying.

Other indigenous products which have been grappling with similar issues of trademark protection are Karoo Lamb and Honeybush.

The rules do not affect existing trademarks, but new trademark applicants cannot call a product rooibos unless it contains 100% rooibos or it is the main ingredient.

Where it is a substantial ingredient the labelling must detail exactly how much rooibos it contains.

If it is not a main ingredient the product can only be said to contain rooibos.

Martin Bergh, a director of the SA Rooibos Council, said the rules are a move in the right direction.

Firstly, they protect local consumers from misleading claims about products which may only contain a minimal amount of rooibos.

Secondly, South Africa can only apply for international protection against overseas companies attempting to register or copyright the name rooibos if it is protected locally.

“We’re not saying that this provides absolute protection for rooibos, but hope this is the start of a process which will ultimately enable us to apply for Geographical Indicator status, much like Champagne, Darjeeling Tea and Columbian Coffee," he said.

"This will finally prevent international companies attempting to trademark a generic brand name for commercial gain.”

There have been a number of recent cases where overseas companies have attempted to trademark rooibos.

Dry rooibos and extracts, liquors and infusions of the plant are used in a variety of products including herbal teas, fruit juices and other foodstuffs as well as health and beauty products.

It is a popular ingredient in food products because it is a good carrier of flavours and has well-publicised health benefits.

Its anti-ageing potential, proven skin protection and anti-allergenic characteristics are amongst the properties, which make it attractive to cosmetic manufactures.

“The SA Rooibos Council’s mandate is to grow the industry, so these regulations are not intended in any way to inhibit manufacturers from using rooibos in their products," said Bergh.

"What we do want to prevent is spurious or misleading claims that products contain rooibos and by implication deliver its benefit if they do not.”

- Fin24

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