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EU Geographical Indications and quality schemes, new rules coming soon for PDO, PGI, TSG

The European Parliament approved in first reading, on 31 May 2023, the proposal for a regulation on 'EU Geographical Indications and Quality Schemes', for the reform of the rules on PDO, PGI and TSG. (1)

The scope of the new regulation extends to wines and spirit drinks, with modification of the reg. EU 1308/2013 (single CMO) and reg. EU 2019/787 (spirit drinks), in addition to replacing the reg. EU 1151/2012.

1) Geographical Indications (GIs), premise

Le Geographical Indications (GIs) they can identify the traditional agri-food products (for at least 30 years) linked to the territories. The European Economic Community has introduced an exclusive regime for the protection of Geographical Indications, starting from the reg. EEC 2081, 2082/1992, which in some respects produces similar effects to intellectual property rights. Valid today in the EU and in the countries that have entered into agreements with it for the mutual recognition of some of their respective ones Geographical Indications. They are distinguished in:

  • DOP (Protected Designation of Origin), o AOP (Protected designation of origin), Or PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). Identifies traditional products whose characteristics, qualities and production phases are entirely linked to the place or region (or in special cases to the country of origin),
  • PGI (Protected Geographical Indication, Protected Geographical Indication), or PGI (Protected Geographical Indication). It distinguishes products that present at least one of the production phases (not all, as for PDOs), as well as quality, reputation or other characteristics attributable to the place, region or country of origin (new EU regulation on, articles 37 and 48),
  • STG (Traditional Specialty Guaranteed, Spécialité Traditionnelle Guarantees), or TSG (Traditional Specialty Guaranteed) includes preparations recognized and protected by the EU, the peculiarities of which depend on a traditional composition of the product, a typical recipe or a traditional production method (art. 54).

2) Enhanced protection

The European register of the Geographical Indications today it includes around 3500 registered names, whose annual sales have an annual value of around 80 billion euros. The review of European policy has highlighted the effectiveness of Geographical Indications in pursuing the set objectives, also identifying some areas for improvement. With particular regard to the protection of trademarks, which is therefore strengthened against:

a) any direct or indirect commercial use of the geographical indication, online or offline, for products that are not subject to registration, if the latter are comparable to products registered under that name or the use of that name exploits, weakens, weakens or still damage the notoriety of the protected name,

b) any usurpation, counterfeiting, imitation or evocation, even if the true origin of the goods or services is indicated or if the protected name is a translation or a transcription or a transliteration or is accompanied by expressions such as 'genre', 'type' , 'method', 'in the manner', 'imitation', 'taste', 'how' or similar, even if the product is used as an ingredient,

c) any other false or misleading indication as to the provenance, origin, nature or essential qualities of the product used on the wrapping or packaging, in advertising material, documents or in information provided on websites or related domain names to the product in question, as well as the use, for packaging, of containers which may mislead as to its origin,

d) any other practice which may mislead the consumer as to the true origin of the product'. (new art. 27).

2.1) Evocations of Geographical Indications and their use as ingredients of other products

The evocations of the Geographical Indications also occur when 'any aspect of the labeling or packaging suggests even to the reasonably observant consumer a direct link to the product' with one of Geographical Indications protected, 'exploiting or damaging the reputation of the name'(art. 27.2).

The notoriety of PDO and PGI products can no longer be unduly exploited even in processed products. The name of the protected product may be displayed on the label, outside the list of ingredients, only upon agreement with the majority of the members of a producers' association (art. 28). As already foreseen in Italy (2,3).

2.2) Protection and promotion online

The aforementioned protections also apply to products sold at a distance, online and by ecommerce. With the prohibition, for subjects who do not belong to a protection consortium, to use (in the EU) domains websites that recall the Geographical Indications (Article 27.3). Even so, it is hoped to facilitate digitization where in Italy, the first country by number of Geographical Indications in the EU, 39% of protection consortia do not have a website Internet (2019 data). (4)

3) Producer associations

Producer associations recognized will be able to submit new applications for registration of Geographical Indications, develop the specifications and any amendments, carry out internal controls and act on behalf of all producers. Thus also protect the geographical indication and intellectual property rights, forbidding third parties to introduce 'imitation' products into the European market (art. 32).

3.1) Governance

The new rules should not discriminate against micro-enterprises nor small and medium-sized ones (article 8.4.a). Nonetheless:

  • 'Member States can establish rules to ensure that for each geographical indication it can operate one group of producers that represents the majority of producers and that membership of the producer group and the contribution to expenses related to the exercise of the powers of the producer group and the fulfillment of its responsibilities are mandatory for all manufacturers' (new art. 32.1). (5)
  • (those who command)'producers' associations can take measures to enhance the products and, if necessary, take measures to prevent or counteract any measures or commercial practice that is, or risks being, detrimental to the image and value of their products, including devaluing marketing practices and reducing prices' (article 32.2.ea). With all due respect to the freedom of enterprise and the rules governing competition in the EU market.

4) Socio-environmental sustainability

Social and environmental sustainability of agricultural production is one of the specific objectives that the Union declares it intends to pursue also through the system of Geographical Indications, in line with the Green Deal and the strategy Farm to Fork. The European Parliament adds that GIs' supply chainscan', without any obligation, also play an important role in the development of the circular economy.

'The collective organization of the producers of a geographical indication can better ensure a fair distribution of the added value amongst the actors in the supply chain, to provide a fair income to producers, which covers their costs and allows them to invest further in the quality and sustainability of their products' (Recital 9).

4.1) Commitments on sustainability

Producer associations they can therefore agree on environmental, socio-economic and animal welfare commitments (including reductions in the use of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics) that go beyond the legal duties and good practices, insert them in the specifications and in thesustainability reports'. The European Commission in turn will be able to establish implementing rules in these respects (art. 12, 12a).

Agroecology it is referred to by the European Parliament as a useful strategy, among other things, to contribute to the fight against climate change (Article 12). And since investments in this sense could be too heavy, special funding will have to be arranged. Producers will have to be informed about the opportunities that the ecological transition may bring, in order to share its added value with consumers (recital 12).

5) Registration process, from Member States to global level

Member States return to being the real protagonists of the registration procedure Geographical Indications. Under the banner of 'simplification', the new regulation provides that:

  • producer groups apply to the Member State for registration of a new PDO, PGI or TSG,
  • the Member State evaluates the application and opens a national opposition procedure, in fact similar to that for registering trademarks. And in the hypothesis of a favorable outcome, the State itself presents the application to the European Commission,
  • the Commission in turn examines the application and opens the opposition procedure, however in this case a Globally. In fact, the European Union, it is recalled, decided in 2019 to join theLisbon Agreement of 1958 and thus subordinate the Geographical Indications to the superior regime of international brands. (6)

During this last phase and until the final decision, Member States can grant the transitional protection to the product at national level, without hindering the internal market or international trade (Title II, Chapter II).

5.1) Geographical Indications and commercial brands

Are excluded from registration as Geographical Indications the names whose registration, 'because of the notoriety and reputation of a commercial brand', they might 'mislead the consumer as to the true identity of the product'(art. 31).

'Registration of a trademark commercial whose use would violate Article 27 [v. above, par. 2] is rejected – or otherwise invalidated by the EUIPO and/or the competent national authorities – 'if the application for registration of the trade mark is submitted after the date of submission to the Commission of the application for registration of the geographical indication'(art. 35).

'The registered trademarks of Geographical Indications have a asset value which can be determined after a clear and objective analysis by an independent third party. This value can be included in the annual balance of both producer groups and individual producers'(Recital 31st year).

6) PDO products of animal origin, local origin of feed

PDO products of animal origin must use feed which 'come entirely from the defined geographical area'. Unless 'it is not technically possible to guarantee that they come entirely from the defined geographical area', in which case yes 'may add feed which does not come from that area, provided that the quality or characteristics of the product essentially due to the geographical environment are not impaired. Feed which does not come from the defined geographical area may not exceed 50% dry matter on an annual basis'(Article 50).

7) Labeling. Name of the manufacturer and origin of the ingredients

The manufacturer's name must appear on the label of the products bearing geographical indications, in the same field of vision as the respective EU logo (the display of which is however not mandatory on wines and spirits). A big step forward that will allow consumers to identify individual producers - and thus appreciate (or not) their quality - even on products marketed under the brands of the retail (private labels).

The origin of the primary ingredients (i.e. significant, >50% in the recipe, or characterizing) must be indicated on the label, where different from the country where the PGI or TSG is registered (art. 37.2). But deception is perpetuated, since this 'news' can be offered:

  • with the same very generic methods established in reg. EU 2018/775 (which includes the formula 'Planet Earth origin', 'EU and non-EU'), and yet
  • with no font size requirement or placement in the same field of view as the Geographical Indications (as at least provided for in EU regulation 2018/775). (7)

8) Traditional Specialties Guaranteed (TSG)

The TSGs are in fact the Geographical Indications of series C, since they are not tied to the territory in the production process but only in the recipe or method of preparation (e.g. 'mozzarella', the most useless of the TSG). In contrast to the PDOs where each stage of production - starting from agricultural raw materials, with some guilty exceptions on feed (8) - must be located in the identified area.

30 years of bankruptcies should have been enough to conclude this experience which did not bring any added value. But Europe insists, with a further simplification of the registration procedure. It will no longer even be necessary to demonstrate, in the specification, the specificity of the product through its physical, chemical, microbiological or organoleptic characteristics (Title III, Chapter 1).

9) Official controls

In line with the jurisprudence of the EU Court of Justice in the Parmesan case, (9) the European Parliament requests that 'each member state take the appropriate administrative and judicial measures to prevent or stop the unlawful use of protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications produced or marketed in that Member State.

To this end, the Member States designate the authorities responsible for adopting these measures according to the procedures established by each Member State. These authorities provide adequate guarantees of objectivity and impartiality and have the qualified personnel and resources necessary to carry out their task'.

'Member States shall assist each other to carry out the controls and enforcement activities referred to in this Chapter, in accordance with Regulation (EU) 2017/625'(Article 44).

10) Optional indications of quality

The new regulation confirms the possibility for Member States to maintain optional quality schemes within the national area and the optional indication 'mountain product' for products whose raw materials, feed for animals and stages of transformation, except in rare justified cases, take place in mountain areas. (10)

'It is appropriate to introduce a new optional quality wording 'farmer's product (farmer's product), in order to provide consumers with information on a specific product feature. Member States should establish the criteria that a product must meet in order to be used' such 'optional wording of quality' (recital 53.a). (11)

11) Next steps

The text approved by the European Parliament on 31 May 2023, it is sent to the Council and the Commission to define an agreement in the trilogue (i.e. agreement between the three institutions). The final compromise text could then return to Strasbourg in the October 2023 plenary session, with the possible entry into force of the new regulation in January 2024.

Dario Dongo and Alessandra Mei

Footnotes

(1) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on geographical indications of the European Union for wines, spirit drinks and agricultural products and on quality schemes for agricultural products:

(2) Dario Dongo. PDO and PGI ingredients on the label and advertising of other products, MiPAAFT clarificationsFARE (Food and Agriculture Requirements). 7.5.19

(3) The reference to a PDO (eg. champagne) on the label of a different product that contains it (e.g. sorbet), without the consent of the protection consortium. See Dario Dongo. DOP ingredients. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(4) Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. PDO and PGI, 1 out of 3 does not have a website websites. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 9.1.2019

(5) Coldiretti, through the rapporteur Paolo De Castro, thus reproposes here the oligarchic approach already adopted in Italy to dominate the organic supply chain. See paragraph 'Rules, contributions and dictatorship' in the previous article by Dario Dongo. Italian organic food, Coldiretti's tailor-made bill to be voted on in the Senate. #Clean spades. GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 18.5.21

(6) Dario Dongo. Protection of geographical indications, the EU towards the Geneva ActGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 3.4.19

(7) How to indicate the origin of the primary ingredient on the label. The lawyer Dario Dongo answersFARE (Food and Agriculture Requirements). 6.5.23

(8) Dario Dongo. The crimes of the Amazon in our PDOsGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 15.7.19

(9) EUCJ, case C-132/05, judgment 26.2.08. See Dario Dongo. Cambozola, letter from Great Italian Food Trade to the German government... 9.7.15

(10) Dario Dongo, Giulia Torre. Mountain product, that's the brand. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 27.8.18

(11) The wording 'farmer's product' could be used to integrate the voluntary information on PDO and PGI extra virgin olive oils, which today do not allow the distinction of artisanal products. See Dario Dongo, Giulia Pietrollini. Marketing of olive oils, reg. EU 2022/2104. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 20.11.22

Alessandra Mei

Graduated in Law from the University of Bologna, she attended the Master in Food Law at the same University. You participate in the WIISE srl benefit team by dedicating yourself to European and international research and innovation projects.

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