Products with protected food name designation enjoy enhanced marketing opportunities and price premiums, but what will happen to UK designations after Brexit? Olivia Midgley reports...
They have existed across the European Union since 1992 but now the future of protected food names in Britain has been cast into doubt.
Inspired by France’s national quality system, Appellation d’origine controlee (AOC), the EU launched the scheme to protect goods which were characterised by a specific geographical origin, developed over a long period of interaction with traditions and the local environment.
Through the logos, consumers can easily recognise these traditional quality products and rely on their authenticity in terms of regional origin or traditional production.
As well as providing a useful marketing tool in the EU and other markets, registration under these schemes provides producers with legal protection against imitation or misuse of the product name.
A recent event hosted by the UK Protected Food Name Association in Parliament and attended by cross-party MPs and peers heard how the brands made £4.8 billion in UK export income each year.
The association’s chairman Matthew O’Callaghan said anything less than a ‘seamless’ transition to an equivalent scheme for products designated under the European Food Names scheme could damage market opportunities at home and abroad after Brexit.
“But we are facing uncertainty in Brexit,” Mr O’Callaghan told the event.
“We want a seamless scheme recognised on a shared basis, with our products recognised in Europe and their products recognised in the UK.”
He said with the support of cross-party MPs, he had been meeting with Defra to highlight the importance of a new scheme post-Brexit.
Gwyn Howells, chairman of Welsh red meat levy board Hybu Cig Cyrmu, said Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) designation had been the ‘cornerstone’ of efforts to grow new markets for Welsh Beef and Welsh Lamb.
“It is a mark of high quality traceability among the food industry globally,” he said, adding the £1bn industry in Wales employed thousands of people on farms and in the supply chain.
“It is vital a solution is found to enable our lamb and beef to maintain its status alongside iconic products such as Champagne and Parma ham.
“Anything less than a seamless transition to an equivalent scheme which is recognised worldwide could risk the export success Welsh red meat has enjoyed over the past decade.”
Even if the legislation was carried into UK law, it was not clear who would fund the scheme after Brexit.
In 2016, the EU supported programmes worth €111 million to find new markets and promote consumption outside and inside the EU, including promotion of PGI products.
For those with business models depending on designation, the stakes were high.
Marian Armitage, Shetland Food and Drink Association chairman, said protected status was vital for Shetland’s only abattoir.
“The significance of this abattoir is it allows us to have the Protected Designation of Origin [PDO],” she said.
“The criteria is the animals have to be pure-bred, native, and reared and slaughtered in Shetland.
“The abattoir is incredibly important as it means crofters can have animals slaughtered on the islands without sending them to Aberdeen or elsewhere.”
Ms Armitage said the market was growing for Shetland lamb and there was an opportunity for growth, but this was dependent on being able to sell off the back of the PDO.
Maintaining traditional farming systems was also at the root of concerns aired by Jacob Sykes, chairman of the Traditional Farm-fresh Turkey Association, a group of about 50 independent family-run farms across the UK.
“Traditional Speciality Guaranteed [TSG] status protects the reputation of regional and traditional foods whose authenticity and origin can be guaranteed. For retailers it means they can distinguish between wet-plucked, factory processed turkeys.
“Our traditional systems rely on manpower so there would be an employment issue if we lost the designation.
“We would also have concerns about who would audit the scheme outside the EU. Defaulting to Trading Standards, we feel, would be nothing more than a box ticking exercise as they do not understand the specifics of the sector.”
The most recent regulation on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs entered into force in January 2013. The three designations:
Case study – Richard Briggs, Shetland Lamb
UNDER EU rules, lambs derived from the native Shetland breed and under 12 months of age which were born, raised, and slaughtered in Shetland qualify to be labelled Shetland Lamb with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status.
Shetland crofter Richard Briggs said: “The main benefit for artisan producers who do not have the sales volume to support a major marketing campaign is the kudos of having passed such a rigorous selection process.
“This is what sets our producers apart when seeking to attract customers to sample our product.”
The steward of the Shetland Lamb PDO is a community co-operative Shetland Livestock Marketing Group which manages the auction mart and the abattoir in Lerwick, Shetland.
“At the top end of the market, buyers understand and value the assurance of quality and provenance which the food designations provide. The label opens the door to get tasted in a crowded marketplace,” said Mr Briggs.
“I specialise in pure-bred native Shetland sheep which produce a 10kg carcase in a sheepmeat market which has 20kg as a standard. As processing costs are per head, I need to be able to charge a bit more per kilo to cover costs.
“In the last couple of seasons, the autumn market price for light lambs has been poor.
“Selling into a market asking for PDO I have been able to hold my prices without being undercut by a fall in the weekly market price.”