A battle is currently taking place over whether the UK’s iconic regional foods will be protected in the EU after Brexit, and this is one fight we must win, says Jackie Evans, managing director of agriculture and land management at ADAS.
Protecting the place of British food at the international dinner table has become the latest battleground in UK-EU trade negotiations currently taking place.
Only last week, producers across the country voiced their dismay when a majority of MPs voted against the a ‘new Clause’ of the Agriculture Bill which would have prevented the import of agricultural products that do not comply with current environmental and animal health and welfare standards, opening the door of the British marketplace to potentially inferior produce.
For some iconic British food producers, it could be a double blow, as the end of the transition period may also spell the end of the legal protection of some foods which are at the very heart of British culture.
Since 1993, the European Union Protected Food Name (EUPFN) Scheme has protected food and drink products based on their geography or recipe.
With Brexit trade negotiations coming to a close soon, the seamless protection of British-produced food covered by this scheme, such as Cumberland sausages, traditional Welsh-Caerphilly or Melton Mowbray pies, promised by the Government is still yet to be fully clarified.
This leaves producers, many of whom export the majority of their unique goods to the EU, unsure of where they stand come January 2021.
There are currently 1,260 registered EUPFN’s across 27 different product classes with approximately 200 products in the application and/or publishing process.
88 EUPFN’s have been granted in the UK.
At one point, the Defra Secretary had placed such a high priority on protected status that the UK wanted to match the number of EUPFNs in France – 219.
The issue boils down to Geographical Indication (GI) status.
GIs act like an intellectual property right, so no other producer can legally use the name, providing protection from fraud.
Only foods which retain their EU GI status are recognised and protected in EU law.
When the transition period ends, the Government has announced it will begin its own Geographical Indication Status to protect British goods.
How this will work when it comes to registering future protected foods has been causing much debate and not a lot of agreement.
According to a new report in the Telegraph, the EU wants to agree a legal framework which will guarantee protection for newly-recognised EU GIs in the UK.
UK diplomats have rejected the EU’s demands and are requesting that UK GI’s receive protection in EU law.
The problem for the UK is that both parties are not on a level playing field.
Protection of existing EU GI products in the UK has already been promised as part of the Withdrawal Agreement – brie and Parma ham are safe for future British summers – but reciprocal guarantees for UK produce in the EU were not secured.
If there is no agreement by the end of June, it may be too late to get protection plans in place for January 2021, and there’s a possibility we could start seeing Cornish pasties produced in other countries hit the shop shelves across Europe.
At the moment, Cornish pasties need to be produced in Cornwall to a specific list of ingredients.
These GI producers are still reeling from the setback of Covid-19 – one example is Stilton, which saw sales drop by 30 per cent with the shutting of restaurants.
We need continued protection for the known staples of British food culture like Newmarket sausages, Cornish pasties, Melton Mowbray pies, Scotch whisky and Welsh lamb in one of our biggest markets – the EU.
Producers and Government bodies have invested heavily to get recognition for produce unique to their areas.
The Vale of Clwyd Denbigh Plum, the only plum species native to Wales, was only recently added to the EU protected food list.
Regional specific produce remains a big selling point for EU consumers, and an outside threat to this client base is going to be substantial for British producers who trade heavily in the EU marketplace – 92 per cent of Welsh lamb in 2018 was sold in the EU.
They need Government reassurance, sooner rather than later, that their way of life will continue to be recognised and treasured everywhere, not just within the UK.