Will EU-Backed Country of Origin Labels Survive Brexit?

Report Casts Doubt on Future Promotion of UK Protected Food Names in EU

The EU currently protects 61 registered products of Geographical Indication Status against imitation. Will this protection be maintained post-Brexit?

The Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) has published a report that examines the impact Brexit might have on famous UK products that currently enjoy European Union protection under the Geographical Indication (GI) scheme.

The report is of critical importance to some of the most iconic names in the UK food industry and to those in the printed label business.

It states that while the EU will no longer give financial backing to the promotion of protected products, there is still the possibility for protected status to remain in place, provided reciprocal agreements can be drawn up between Great Britain and the EU.

Geographical Indication

The GI scheme recognises the significance that specific locations bestow on certain products in terms of quality and reputation. The UK currently has 61 GI registered products, and a further 17 applications are in progress. The vast majority of these are in the meat and cheese sectors, featuring such names as Melton Mowbray pork pies, West Country beef, Scottish farmed salmon, Stilton cheese, or of course, Cornish Pasties.

GI schemes have existed in various forms throughout the world for more than 100 years, protecting the uniqueness and reputation of everything from Mexican Tequila to Swiss Gruyère. Likewise, there are numerous national and international treaties that protect GI, including the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

Any individual producer can apply for GI protection provided it can demonstrate specific qualities or characteristics that are essentially due to its product’s place of origin. It can take up to four years for legal protection to be granted, but once protection is granted, it remains in place indefinitely.

The UK has relatively few registered products compared with other European countries. The majority of food names registered within the EU are from Germany, France, Spain and Italy.

Kathy Roussel is the head of AHDB’s Brussels office and the co-author of the report. She remarked that while GIs certainly bring added value for some products, the registration of a GI does not in itself guarantee success. It needs to be combined with other factors, such as market development and regional cooperation.

Continued Protection

Ms Roussel acknowledged the importance of protecting traditional and geographical food products and has confirmed that this protection will stay in place for British products while the UK is still a member of the EU. She went on to say that a consultation process is under way to examine how these products can best be protected after Brexit.

She said: “When the UK leaves the EU, registered protected food names should be able to benefit from EU protection against imitation, provided there is a reciprocal agreement between the UK and the EU.”

Such agreements already exist between the EU and other non-EU countries, and food or drink products originating from either within or outside the EU can be registered at European level. They will then be given legal protection against imitation throughout the EU.

However, in order to be considered, non-EU products must first be approved by their country’s own national approval scheme. This means that in order to guarantee continued protection, the UK will first have to set up its own independent approval scheme.