A glass of champagne. A slice of Parma ham. A bowl of Kalamata olives. The European Union is rich in a variety of culinary traditions. But apart from being delicious food, what else do these products have in common?
Being made in some of Europe's many stunning rural areas, they stand for the unique characteristics linked to the geographical area in which they are produced and the know-how embedded in those areas. As such they are - together with some 3458 products - protected under the same European legislation as geographical indications (GIs) from falsification, imitation and misuse.
Products which are protected by geographical indications can be made in exactly the same way as the original, but the name may not be used. In fact, champagne can only be made using grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. Only dry-cured meat produced in the hills around Parma can legitimately bear the name of Parma ham. And only those olives made in a small, hilly area of the Peloponnese in Greece can be called Kalamata olives.
Geographical indications thus reflect the quality and diversity of products that our agricultural sector offers and are an important tool to promote regional identity and gastronomic heritage. Especially in countries with a long history of GI protection, such as France and Italy. Accounting for sales worth EUR 74.76 billion and for 15.5% of all EU agri-food exports, GIs tell the tale of real success in European agriculture. But there is even more ...
A traditional driver for sustainability
Geographical indications are a true driving force for sustainable and inclusive food production in our rural areas: they contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and the reduction of poverty, in particular in mountainous and remote regions, where the farming sector accounts for a significant part of the economy and production costs are high. They also support a reorientation towards quality as opposed to quantity and encourage the diversification of agricultural production. Finally, they provide consumers with high-quality products with the guarantee of their mode of production and origin.
In times in which we are facing major food crises, it is even more important that GIs play their part in guaranteeing local quality food and making sure small producers receive a fair return and recognition for the quality of their products. So how can we make sure they are equipped for these and other future challenges?
Making our dinner table fit for the future
The need to review the current rules governing geographical indications has been on the table for quite some time. In the framework of its Farm to Fork strategy - the agricultural branch of the Green Deal - the European Commission published in March its long-awaited proposal to review the GI framework for wine, spirit drinks and agricultural products. It has four main objectives:
- a shortened and simplified registration procedure, which would increase the attractiveness of the schemes for producers and address the geographical imbalance at EU level in take-up of geographical indications;
- increased online protection of GIs, namely as regards sales via online platforms and the protection against bad faith registration;
- improved sustainability through the promotion of actions regarding social, environmental or economic criteria in product specifications;
- empowering producers' groups, which will have access to the anti-counterfeiting authorities and customs in all Member States.
A European agriculture based on quality
“This is not a revolution, but the evolution of a system without equal in the world, which already works by generating value without the need to invest any public funds. For the first time, this regulation offers the possibility of creating a single text for all quality products, while safeguarding the specificities of each sector. I hope that in the coming weeks everyone will be able to contribute to the improvement of the text , so that this work does not turn out to be an opportunity for some, and a lost opportunity for others”, underlines Paolo De Castro (S&D), who is the European Parliament's rapporteur on the revision of legislation governing EU Geographical Indications for wine, spirit drinks and agricultural products and quality schemes for agricultural products.
Strengthening and renewing the system that is unrivalled in the , creating value without the need to invest public funds: geographical indications!
— S&D Group (@TheProgressives) September 29, 2022
PES member Karine Gloanec- Maurin, Deputy mayor delegate of Couëtron-au-Perche, a municipality situated in the French Centre-Val de Loire region, is leading the debate in the European Committee of the Regions. Based on the experience of GI-protected products of her own region, she underlines that: “Geographical indications are an integral part of European identity: who could imagine France without Champagne, Italy without parmesan or Spain without jamón ibérico. They have shaped our regions and still play a fundamental role in rural development because they ensure a better income for producers and contribute to the attractiveness of rural areas. They are also the model for developing European agriculture based on quality.”
“Geographical indications are a fundamental component of rural development policy and have an impact on the economic and social activity of the regions.”
— PES Group Committee of the Regions (@PES_CoR) November 8, 2022
In her opinion, which is scheduled to be adopted by the Committee’s plenary session on 30 November, she focuses on an approach that makes sustainable management of GIs more attractive. “We need an efficient voluntary approach to sustainability, which recognises and promotes the contribution of GIs to sustainability and at the same time supports and encourages producers and producer groups to engage more in the sustainable transition, according to their regions”, she emphasises.
Regarding simplification, she stresses the importance of providing clear deadlines and speeding up the procedures for registration and modification of specifications. She believes that, although GIs are rural development tools that should not be viewed only as intellectual property rights, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) could be involved in the functioning of the system when it comes to providing technical assistance to the European Commission in cases relating to intellectual property. Its expertise in the field and its tools can be useful for monitoring and promoting geographical indications and combating fraud.
Moreover, Karine Gloanec-Maurin supports the proposal to encourage GI producers to work together effectively within producer groups and to give such groups more powers, underlining that “strong collective governance is at the heart of the GI system”. Moreover, producer groups should be consulted when the European Commission is negotiating new international trade agreements, as geographical indications are also evidence of Europe’s identity abroad.
Last but not least, she calls for adequate support to enable producers of small and medium-sized geographical indications - who account for 48% of the total number of GIs in the EU, but only 0.5% of the total value of sales - to deal with high production costs and thus avoid them giving up on certification.
Geographical indications will continue to be a cornerstone of Europe’s rural development policy, supporting farmers from the four corners of the continent to deliver quality agricultural products and maintain knowledge and traditions.
Together, let us make sure that this part of European identity on the dining table continues to maintain its taste.
🇪🇺 Our Progressive members always on the front to defend rural development and the excellence in our territories! pic.twitter.com/tn67MvOQ95
— PES Group Committee of the Regions (@PES_CoR) October 11, 2022
© Photo credits: Xavier von Erlach on Unsplash