DEFRA takes matters into its own hands as Brexit fishing impasse leaves little time to revisit the protection of agricultural products and foodstuffs
My last article, on the protection of agricultural products and foodstuffs (read it here), had me sitting in a wine bar in front of a mixed cheese and charcuterie platter contemplating what would happen to my beloved Teviotdale cheese when the end of the Brexit transition period comes.
Three months on and I am still thinking about Teviotdale cheese, only this time the setting is quite different. Edinburgh is now in a tier three lockdown, which has resulted in the wine bar being replaced by my living room and my cheese and charcuterie platter being replaced by a block of Cheddar cheese and a single gherkin. There is no Teviotdale cheese in sight and the Cheddar cheese/gherkin combination is proving to be undesirable, much like the current stalemate on Brexit talks.
My obsession with Teviotdale cheese and why the cheese is so special has to do with the fact that it is a Protected Geographical Indication ("PGI"), protected by EU Regulation 1151/2012 For The Quality Schemes For Agricultural Products and Foodstuffs ("The Regulation"). This means that the product name (Teviotdale) can only be used on a product, which meets the premium-quality standards associated with the Teviotdale cheese.
It also means that a product meeting these standards MUST be labelled with the following relevant EU logo:
The purpose of the logo is to educate the consumer that the labelled product is a genuine PGI and that it complies with the premiumquality standards associated with it. For example, the producers of Teviotdale cheese have to go through multiple rigorous compliance checks to ensure that the quality and the characteristics of their product is sufficient to entitle them to use, in the first instance, the name Teviotdale, and secondly the PGI logo.
Consequently, a cheese manufacturer or a seller cannot call their product 'Teviotdale cheese' or use the above logo within the EU unless it meets the Teviotdale cheese standards, which also include coming from the village of Teviotdale, Scotland.
The strict EU standards associated with the names of agricultural products and foodstuffs are there to ensure food quality of these products stays consistently high and that consumers always receive a product with the quality, and the characteristics associated with the name that the product carries.
Unfortunately, the standards for control of agricultural products and foodstuffs are not the same all over the world. For example, in the United States (US) it would be possible to call a product Teviotdale "style" cheese or "Californian Teviotdale" as the US allows the use of protected product names, provided they don't lead to confusion or deception of the consumer.
The position in respect of the protection of agricultural products and foodstuffs in the UK still remains unclear despite the end of the Brexit transition period being upon us. No further discussions in respect hereof have taken place and consumers, producers and suppliers are left wondering whether the strict EU protection of agricultural products and foodstuffs will remain in place in the UK come 1 January 2021.
Given the uncertainty, The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has decided to take matters into its own hands by announcing that if no further agreements are reached between the EU and UK in that respect by the end of the transition period, the UK will set up its own geographical indication scheme. Seemingly, this suggests that the UK plans to follow a strict approach to the protection of agricultural products and foodstuffs like the EU (i.e. my beloved Teviotdale cheese will maintain its premium quality and characteristics).
Under the new UK scheme, all existing UK products with EU PGI/PGO protection will automatically be registered under the new UK scheme. However, from 1 January 2021 all new UK PGI/PGO applications, under the UK scheme, wishing to secure protection in the EU, will need to make a separate application to the EU. Guidance on how to apply to the new UK scheme will be released in due course by DEFRA.
At this stage, we know that in the future the following relevant UK logos MUST be used on the labels of protected food and agricultural products from the UK:
The rules for the new logos are in summary as follows:
Date by which new logo MUST to be used (please note logo use is optional for wine and spirits)
Product produced and for sale prior to 1 January 2021:
1 January 2024
Product produced and for sale after 1 January 2021:
1 January 2021
Brexit negotiations will be continuing virtually in the upcoming weeks; whether protection of these products is to be revisited remains to be seen.
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