Beyond Champagne - European traditional foods in the face of TTIP part 1

I wrote the following piece at the request of an US lawyer in an attempt to explain the concerns of some European farmers and food manufacturers to the proposed trans Atlantic trade treaty


The TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations have raised concerns amongst some food and drink producers in Europe as to the extent it will undermine the current European labelling regime that is intended to protect products associated with particular geographical regions.

The current regime is set out in COUNCIL REGULATION (EC) No 510/2006 of 20 March 2006 on the protection of geographical indications and designations of origin for agricultural products and foodstuffs.  This sets up two classes of geographically defined product: those covered by the PDO or protected designation of origin and those covered by the PGI or protected geographical indication.

For PDO protection a product has to be made entirely within a designated region and as a result of being manufactured there to have acquired certain characteristics so for example Roquefort cheese must be matured in the Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon the particular nature of which such as their temperature, humidity and the presence of a particular bacterium are believed to give the cheese its distinctive flavour in addition to complying with other strict rules regarding the sheep from which the milk may be taken, and the general processing of the cheese.

PGI protection is accorded products that have attained a strong reputation for quality connected to a specific place.  It is not necessary in this case to demonstrate that the physical conditions of the place or skills of the labour force make it in some way technically unique.  So by way of example Stornoway Black Pudding is famous for its quality and although people elsewhere might buy in the same ingredients and use the same techniques as are used in Stornoway to make it they cannot associate their product in their marketing with the Stornoway product.

In order to receive PDO or PGI protection producers have to go through a regulatory process first in their own country and then if they satisfy those authorities before the European Commission.  There are opportunities at both stages for objections to be heard normally to the effect that the name has become generic and is no longer (if it ever was) linked primarily to a particular place or product.  Cheddar cheese for example is not protected by either scheme although specific types of cheddar such as that made in Orkney which has PGI coverage may be protected. While usually the products are fairly obviously traditional to an area sometimes the registrations have proven controversial such as the granting of PDO protection to Feta cheese varieties of which had been produced outside Greece on quite a large scale for some time.  In other cases the protection has proven rather weak.  “Traditional Cumberland Sausage” is a PGI but Cumberland sausage is widely sold and advertised as such in independent butchers throughout the UK: the one currently sitting in my fridge was advertised as “Cumberland sausage: outdoor reared Scottish pork”.

The same legislation also covers the TSG programme.  This is intended to promote “Traditional Specialties Guaranteed”.  These are products which are in some way distinctive either through ingredients or method of production and have been on the market for at least 30 years in that form.  Once a name is registered for the product all producers must adhere to the registered characteristics to be able to use that name.  It is not linked to a particular geography as such but in reality these will tend to be locally based products as the concept is around transmission of traditions through the generations.  This programme has not so far proven as popular as the others.

Protection under these schemes has precedence over any subsequent attempt to trademark a similar name and products under them are given equivalent protection from infringing imports as the holders of trademarks under Customs Regulation 1383/2003.

Similar well established programmes exist for wines.  Because these schemes have been around a long time and so predate attempts at European centralisation the nomenclature varies from country to country: in France there is theappellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) ( please note that the AOC programme also covers products other than wine), while in Spain the term used is Denominación de Origen (DdO) and so on. Regardless of the name however the purpose is the same and although there is no overall European regime in place the EU authorities can be expected to support the enforcement of the national schemes in relation to interstate trade under a general umbrella of fair trade and consumer protection.

For completeness you should also be aware that there are other geographical protections buried in more general pieces of legislation such as COUNCIL REGULATION (EEC) No 1601/91 of 10 June 1991 laying down general rules on the definition, description and presentation of aromatized wines, aromatized wine-based drinks and aromatized wine-product cocktails and COUNCIL REGULATION (EEC) No 1576/89 of 29 May 1989 laying down general rules on the definition, description and presentation of spirit drinks ( the EU has not go round to finding snappy titles for its enactments but they sound even worse in German).

So what then is the point of these classifications?  The legislation is intended to promote traditionally produced products, to protect the manufacturers and consumers from produce that may ape the appearance but through different ingredients or processes fail to match the traditional product which may damage that product’s reputation and to support rural communities. While there are some very large “industrial” producers most of the protected products are made in small batches by small companies or family businesses.  Various studies have been conducted into the impact of registration under the schemes, trying in particular to calculate the added economic value to the producers and the wider community of registration.  A report from the 2013 study conducted on behalf of the European Commission can be downloaded from This suggests that the protected products do generally attract a premium price but that the level of premium varies tremendously.  The authors also looked at margin levels and again found some premium for protected products but in both cases unprocessed agricultural products achieved the lowest if any benefit of this nature.  The more highly processed products appeared to have an advantage but a greater advantage related to the marketing and level of consumer awareness around the product. 

Another factor that tended to increase the financial premium was the extent to which the product was export focussed and of course this has implications for TTIP.  Producers of these products would love to emulate the success of champagne.  When I first moved to Connecticut in 1993 it was routine if you ordered champagne to be asked if you wanted “domestic” or “imported”.  Thanks to the efforts of producers and the French government to both educate the consumer and to enforce their rights that is unlikely to happen today. Of course this is a labelling issue, it did not mean that the wineries of New York had to stop making sparkling wine rather they had to focus on marketing it as their own product and a genuine option to imported sparkling wines in the same way as in Europe we have many regions that produce sparkling wines of their own each of which have their own aficionados. Are the fears of some US producers and politicians misplaced?  Could not the US variations of traditional European products develop their own reputations both domestically and as new brands when imported into Europe?

Having geographical indication protection was also found to help increase visibility of the protected products and to open up access to other forms of investment and support.  The local community also seemed to benefit from the existence of these products as they can act as an anchor for other commercial activities in the area and of course increase interest in related products and in local tourism.  Over the last couple of years there has been increasing pressure to see this type of protection extended to non-agricultural artisan products such as Bohemian crystal

< back to Blog