Consultation on geographic indications scheme

Amidst Brexit, the British Government has opened a UK-wide consultation on a replacement geographical indication (GI) schemes (which would bring the existing GI regulations into UK law), ensuring that they are in place from ‘exit day’ and meet WTO obligations.

Under EU law, producers can have the name of a product protected. This means that another producer cannot market their product under the same name, unless both are produced within an agreed area and using agreed methods. The application process can take up to four years.

The EU system for protection of food names ensures the integrity of regional and traditional foods by guaranteeing their authenticity and origin. If registered with the EU, a food or drink can be afforded legal protection against imitation across member states, simultaneously increasing awareness of the product.

There are three EU registration schemes of geographical indication and traditional specialities.

1. Protected geographical indication (PGI): for products produced, processed and prepared within a specific geographical area, with a reputation, features or particular qualities attributable to that area.

2. Protected designation of origin (PDO): for products produced, processed and prepared within a specific geographical area (using distinct local knowledge), with features and characteristics attributable to that area.

3. Traditional specialties guaranteed (TSG): for products which are traditional, have customary names and distinctive features, distinguishable from similar products (not due to geographical area or solely based on technical advances in production).

Now, the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is seeking views on technical changes to be made to the existing EU GI schemes (including the protected food name (PFN) scheme), ensuring that “the schemes continue to work in the UK and there is minimal disruption to stakeholders” post-Brexit.

The British proposal is based upon the retention of existing EU regulations within UK law through the EU Withdrawal Act, thereby maintaining four separate schemes for agri-foods, wines, aromatised wines and spirit drinks. Likewise, the protections will be similar to those currently enjoyed and all GI producers in the UK will automatically receive new GI status.

While the UK’s GI schemes will “broadly mirror” the current regime, the UK “would no longer be required to recognise EU GI status” and EU producers “would be able to apply for UK GI status”.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, DEFRA has identified two considerations for UK producers of GI products:

1. the use of a new UK logo on products marketed in the UK; and

2. preparation for applying for GI status in the EU (or other steps to protect product integrity).

A new logo will be introduced regardless of a withdrawal agreement. As such, the consultation specifically requests responses on “what messages a new UK logo for GIs should convey”, as well as the adoption period for products to display the new logo and a new appeals process.

Post-Brexit, the British Government anticipates that “all UK GIs will continue to be protected by the EU’s GI schemes”. If this does not materialise, UK producers would need to submit applications to the European Commission as ‘third country’ applicants.

Northern Ireland has three products with PGI status. These are: Comber New Potatoes; Armagh Bramley Apples; and Lough Neagh Eels. Earlier this year, the Lough Neagh Pollan, a freshwater whitefish, was awarded PDO status.

In addition, there are three all-island protected food name (PFN) spirit products registered by the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM). These can be produced anywhere on the island of Ireland and are: Irish Cream; póitín; and whiskey. DEFRA has indicated that, irrespective of outcome, each of these three PFNs will be automatically protected in both the EU and the UK.

The consultation closes on 1 November 2018 and guidance on the UK GI schemes are set to be published in early 2019.

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