EU unveils food quality system review amid pressure to change minimum –

The latest overhaul of the EU’s Geographical Indications (GIs) policy was marked as ‘evolutionary’ without substantive changes but still ruffled food producers and some member states, who would have liked to preserve the status quo of the frame.

The European Commission adopted on Thursday March 31 a long-awaited proposal to revise the GI framework for alcoholic beverages and agricultural products.

The GI label is designed to protect the names of specific products that use their unique characteristics linked to their geographical origin and the know-how rooted in the region, such as champagne or parmesan.

For example, only cured meat produced in the hills around Parma can legitimately bear the name Prosciutto di Parma. Along the same lines, champagne can only be made from grapes grown in the French region of the same name.

GIs are considered a success story in the EU as they represent a sales value of €74.76 billion and 15.5% of total EU agri-food exports, according to a recent Commission study.

Therefore, the review of the framework aims “to strengthen the system and improve the elements that we believe can be improved”, said Michael Niejahr, acting deputy director general in the Commission’s agricultural service, DG AGRI, during the meeting. presentation of the proposal to the European Parliament. Parliament.

“It’s not a revolution, it’s an evolution,” he added, underlining the EU executive’s intention to maintain the fundamental structure of a system that has proven itself over the past few years. decades.

Much of the resistance to change comes from GI producer groups and Member States who think the current framework is good as it is.

For example, the Spanish delegation to the EU’s Agrifish Council is already leading an informal group of 15 other member states called “Friends of GIs”, asking to maintain the status quo and not apply new sustainability requirements for proposed GIs. by the Commission.

They refer to a section of the proposal that encourages producers to include sustainability commitments in product specifications, in line with the EU’s flagship sustainable food policy, the Farm to Fork Strategy.

Other aspects addressed by the proposal are better protection of GIs on the Internet, in particular with regard to online sales, and certain aspects of simplification such as the creation of a single set of procedures for registering a new name of IG.

“The system is not only very efficient, it also works very well,” Niejhar acknowledged. “But saying ‘pretty good’ doesn’t mean we can’t improve on it,” he added.

Geographical indications double the value of agri-food products

According to a study published by the European Commission on Monday).

New role for producers

One of the most significant changes introduced by the Commission is the concept of ‘recognized producer groups’, which, once appointed, should take responsibility for increasing their role in the overall application and management of the GIS.

According to the EU executive, this is a way to really empower the beneficiaries of the system, for example by giving them access to anti-counterfeiting authorities and customs in all member states.

According to the European farmers’ association COPA-COGECA, the strengthening of producer groups is a step in the right direction. However, they pointed out that the way the Commission proposes to implement these changes raises questions and serious concerns.

“We are concerned about certain articles of your proposal, which could risk weakening the role of producer groups who are the real actors in the development of these excellent products and could weaken protection”, said the experienced Socialist MEP Paolo De Castro, who is the European Parliament’s rapporteur on this file.

He added that the proposal also slows down the concept of “evocation” clarified by the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in a landmark 2019 ruling which granted extended protection to GI products.

In the ruling, the ECJ found it illegal to use the literary character Don Quixote de La Mancha to promote a certain cheese, saying it “referred to” the geographical area to which Manchego cheese, which holds the PDO status, is associated.

Resistance to increased EUIPO powers

But the biggest source of concern is the increased involvement of the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) in dealing with GIs, with the Commission’s DG AGRI outsourcing some of its skills in this area.

EUIPIO has already been collaborating with the Commission on the issue since 2018, also contributing to the development of IG viewa free online database of all geographical indication registers.

“The rationale for this type of cooperation between the Commission and EUIPO is very practical: we have limited human resources and we have quite a large number of applications,” explained Niejahr from DG AGRI.

The Commission’s objective is to provide an adequate legal basis for this informal cooperation with the EUIPO which has taken shape over the years.

“Our policy objective is to process this request as soon as possible so that the actual holders of the GI can benefit from the protection as soon as possible,” he added.

However, a new transfer of powers to the EUIPO is frowned upon by producers. For COPA-COGECA, the transfer of skills to an agency specialized in intellectual property rights and without the necessary knowledge of the specificities of the agricultural sector jeopardizes the whole policy.

Such a change would imply a substantial weakening of the link between GIs and the rural development policy framework, according to Bernard Farges, president of the European Federation of Origin Wines (EFOW).

“Let me be very clear: the final decision on GI protection will rest with DG AGRI and the College of Commissioners, so there is no intention to deviate from it,” Niejahr stressed, adding that the EUIPO is only supposed to carry out the preparatory work. to work.

The European Parliament and EU ministers are now expected to adopt their negotiating mandates and start interinstitutional discussions to amend the Commission’s initiative.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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