Brexit: What Will Become of Country of Origin Labels?

Brexit: What Will Become of Country of Origin Labels?

Products still to be identified and promoted by unique region

How geographical indicators (GIs) identify certain products and how the UK’s departure from the EU could put the protection they give manufacturers at risk. Many products, especially food and drink related, are identified and sold heavily on their region of origin. Think of certain wines and many of us have our favourites based on where they come from such as Bordeaux, Beaujolais, Languedoc and other familiar names. Think of meats such as beef, and the Angus region of Scotland might come to mind. Cheeses from certain French regions such as Camembert and Roquefort tell you the type of taste you can expect.

The importance of geographical indicators

A geographical indication (GI) is a label used on products from a specific geographical location that possess certain qualities and perhaps a reputation associated with that region. This is a powerful method of identifying and giving a product sales appeal, and can only be used if a product genuinely hails from that area - they are essentially promotional labels. For example, a tea maker couldn’t call their product ‘Darjeeling tea’ unless it actually comes from that area of India. It’s possible to produce foodstuffs and other products using the same methods, but the regional name couldn’t be used. So only foods and other products containing genuine attributes from their region of manufacture can use the geographical name.

The concern for the GI post Brexit

A recent study by farmers’ levy organisation the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) found that, once the UK leaves the EU, it would not be possible for UK protected food names to be promoted with EU financial support either within their member states or elsewhere. Therefore, it’s important that a reciprocal arrangement is forged between the UK and the EU to ensure regional food names should be able to benefit from EU protection against imitation. According to the AHDB, it looks as though the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) do fully appreciate the importance of protecting regional product names. Along with keeping this protection against imitation in place while the UK is still a member of the EU, they’ll endeavour to ensure it stays in place after the UK’s departure from the EU.

A powerful association

The appeal of certain products, especially food and drink, based on geographical region can’t be overstated and thus the protection of geographical names has been in place for over a century. The UK currently has some 60 such GI registered products with another 17 applications presently being processed; typical geographical labels include foods such as Scotch lamb and Scottish farmed salmon. It can take up to four years for a food name to become legally protected, but once achieved this protection lasts indefinitely. Those contravening the right to use a GI in their products are subject to heavy legislative actions such as being taken to court and having stringent penalties levied such as damages and injunctions.

Trademarks and GIs

Trademarks shouldn't be confused with GIs. While a GI identifies the actual place a product comes from, a trademark identifies a specific company such as Coca Cola or Bird’s Eye.