Concern that protection of certain regional delicacies could slacken under the planned EU-US free trade agreement TTIP is sparking heated debate in Germany. EURACTIV.de reports.
“If we want to seize the opportunity of free trade with the giant American market, we can no longer protect every sausage and every cheese as being a specialty,” Germany’s Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt told Der Spiegel just a few days ago.
Concerns voiced by the Minister have given rise to fears that production of treasured regional specialties like Black Forest Ham, Nuremberg Rostbratwurst (grilled sausage) or Bavarian beer could shift to the United States when trade barriers are lifted under the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
The politician from the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) said he expects many European manufacturers of special regional products could lose their current advantage.
NGOs and consumer protection activists were shocked by Schmidt’s words, raising fears that products like Kentucky Fried Bratwurst or Bavarian beer brewed in California could soon enter the German market.
On Monday (5 January) the Minister’s spokesman attempted to reassure the public by saying that Nuremberg Rostbratwurst would not be made in Kentucky with Schmidt as the Minister of Agriculture. Instead, the spokesman said Schmidt was much more concerned about improving protection and ensuring clear labeling.
In Brussels, the European Commission tried placating the critics, saying the EU will not water down its strict geographic food names under TTIP.
But fears over surrendering certain protections of regional products are greater than ever in Germany.
“When Nuremberg, Thuringia, or Black Forest is on the label, that is exactly what should be inside,” demanded former German Agriculture Minister Renate Künast from the Green Party.
The agriculture spokesman of the Green Party faction in the Bundestag, Friedrich Ostendorff, said he was concerned about local jobs. “Thousands of livelihoods are at risk here,” he told the Berlin-based Tagesspiegel newspaper. Even in North Rhine-Westphalia, the richest German state according to GDP, Ostendorff explained that people are alarmed at the prospect.
The CEO of the German Foundation for Food Law and Food Science (BLL), Christoph Minhoff, was also worried: “Regional specialities must remain regional specialities. We do not want original Nuremberger Rostbratwurst from Kentucky,” he told Bild.
EU labels or origin
In 1992, the EU introduced three different labels for goods to protect and support traditional and regional food production.
The red/yellow seal with the words “Protected Designation of Origin” guarantees that the production, processing and manufacturing of a product takes place in a certain area according to a recognised procedure. Two of the few German products that feature such a seal are Allgäu mountain cheese and Lüneburg heath meat.
The seal for “Protected Geographical Indication” is much more common and is blue/yellow in colour. The bulk of the 79 registered German specialities are labeled as such. This specific seal requires that at least one of the steps in production take place in a certain area of origin. Some of the products in this category include Swabian Spätzle (egg noodles), Black Forest Smoked Ham, and Nuremberg Rostbratwurst.
The third seal is for “Traditional Specialty Guaranteed”, which does not refer to any geographical origin. Instead, this seal requires that the product be produced using certain traditional ingredients or according to a traditional manufacturing or processing procedure.
Consumer organisation Foodwatch has long criticized EU rules for geographical indications as “completely inadequate”. The agency says that at least 90% of Black Forest Ham, for example, uses pork that does not originate in the Black Forest – and can nevertheless be legally marketed as a regional product.
Foodwatch is calling for a legally binding, convincing label of origin for foods, requiring producers to indicate the countries of origin for the main ingredients of their products.
“Minister Schmidt’s statements are an indication that the governments are planning on lower consumer protection standards in the future. Despite all the public protests, a loosening of European standards is being discussed in TTIP negotiations with the United States – with an uncertain outcome for consumers in Europe,” said Foodwatch.
“In reality,” the NGO contended, “TTIP means: either bad standards will be maintained or they will become even worse.”
In the meantime, the producer of Nuremberg Rostbratwurst is staying calm. “The EU regulation for the protection of Nuremberg Rostbratwurst or Parma Ham, for instance, cannot simply be erased off the face of the earth. I doubt that is possible,” said Rainer Heimler, the chairman of the Nuremberg Rostbratwurst Protection Association, in a statement for Tagesspiegel.
“As a matter of fact, the protected name of the product has to do with intellectual property,” Heimler pointed out. He does not believe in the prospect of a Kentucky Fried Bratwurst: “After all, it is hard to imagine Bourbon Whisky from Kentucky being distilled in Nuremberg.”
Negotiations between the US and the EU on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) began in July 2013.
If the treaty is signed, it will affect almost 40% of world GDP. The transatlantic market is already the most important in the world.
This agreement could save businesses millions of Euro and create hundreds of thousands of jobs. It is estimated that TTIP could save the average European household €545 each year, and could cause the European Union's GDP to grow by 0.5%.
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