Agrifood Brief: GI galore

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Sectors other than agrifood have come to appreciate the concept of geographical indications, considered one of Europe’s success stories, much like the Erasmus programme for student exchange.

A quick reminder for those who still don’t know what GIs are: Champagne, parmesan and other European delicacies legitimately bear the EU’s GI logo to protect their names against imitation and misuse because of their unique characteristics, linked to their geographical origin and the know-how embedded there.

With a sales value of almost €75 billion and representing 15.5% of the total EU agri-food exports, they are considered a booster for marketing European agri-food products in the bloc and abroad.

The GI scheme is a bringer of prosperity, and even peace, if you consider that making the EU protection to halloumi/hellim cheese equally available to producers from both national communities in Cyprus has been hailed as a highly symbolic step in bringing them closer together.

In a bid to repeat this success, the European Commission has decided to create a new framework for GIs, this time dedicated to handicrafts and artisanal products.

“We are replicating the model already existing with the agricultural GIs,” a Commission official told a technical briefing to present the proposal on Wednesday (13 April).

The Commission estimates that this new proposal will cover between 300 to 800 products ranging from Italy’s Murano glass to France’s Limoges porcelain, and to the world of fashion with Ireland’s Donegal tweed.

This new push on GIs is part of a broader intellectual property (IP) action plan adopted in November 2020, in which the Commission also announced the intention to strengthen, modernise, streamline and better enforce GIs for agri-food products.

That being said, the agri-food GIs scheme still maintains some very advanced features that could not be translated to this new form of protection for artisanal products.

For instance, there will not be any protected designation of origins (PDOs), but instead only protected geographical indications (PGIs) – the first having the strongest links to the place in which they are made, as they require the entire production chain, including process and preparation, to take place in that specific region or area.

After an initial assessment, the Commission experienced some difficulties in controlling all the stages of production and, for the sake of simplification, opted only to grant the PGI form of protection. This means that at least one of the production steps has to be taken in that specific region to be eligible.

The other big difference is who is in charge of the final decision to grant the protection to handicrafts, namely the EU’s intellectual property office (EUIPO).

The Commission’s new proposal will amplify the powers of the office based in Alicante, Spain, which will basically lead the entire procedure.

The increased involvement of EUIPO in dealing with agricultural GIs, with the Commission’s agricultural service DG AGRI outsourcing some of its competencies on the matter, is still one of the biggest causes of concern in the ongoing reform of the EU’s food quality scheme.

Apart from these differences, the reasons behind the success of GIs tell a lot about their hybrid nature, which goes beyond the mere protection of intellectual property against counterfeiting.

According to the Commission official, GIs also enable “exploitation of the single market potential, with benefits for producers” and are important for consumers to make informed choices.

Most of all, GIs help in creating jobs, particularly in those rural areas most affected by the COVID pandemic.

What’s behind a PGI logo then? It is not only a form of ‘protection’, but also information to consumers, a fundamental tool for rural development and for promoting products.

This is also why many have turned up their nose at the prospect of a pure ‘trademark’ approach while GI producers have asked to maintain ties with the EU’s farming subsidies scheme, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

This is expected to be the main red flag for EU lawmakers in the agri-food GI reform. The message is: We’re not jealous of their success outside the agri-food realm, but, please, preserve our GIs as we know them.

By Gerardo Fortuna

PLEASE NOTE:  There will be no EURACTIV agrifood podcast this week and next as we are currently migrating our podcast to a new supporting platform. We’ll be back in business on 29 April. 

Agrifood stories of the week

FAO official: EU’s rethinking of food system fundamentals is legit amid Ukraine, COVID, climate crises
It is understandable that the EU is reorganising the fundamentals of its agricultural model in terms of strategic autonomy after the Ukraine war and the effects of COVID-19 and climate crises, an official of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation told EURACTIV in an interview.

International organisations warn soaring food prices could fuel social unrest, extreme poverty
The world’s major international finance and food organisations have joined forces to call for urgent, coordinated action on food security in light of the war in Ukraine, warning soaring food prices could fuel social tensions and push millions into poverty. Natasha Foote has more.

EU farm lawmakers want to have their say on land-use emissions framework
EU agriculture ministers and MEPs from European Parliament’s agriculture committee want to see farmers’ interests included in the new framework for land-use emissions, a responsibility that falls to their ‘environment’ colleagues. Julia Dahm has the details.

EU decision to restrict bee-harming pesticide causes tension with US
The European Commission has decided to restrict the pesticide ‘sulfoxaflor’ to indoor-only use after concerns over its impact on bees, but the move has not gone down well with the US.  Jamie Holcomb and Natasha Foote have more.

Germany must send aid, change diet amid global food crisis, says official
To help solve the food price crisis, Germany must quickly send aid to import-dependent countries but also change its diet and consume less meat, Nils Annen, parliamentary state secretary at Germany’s economic cooperation and development ministry, told EURACTIV Germany in an interview.

Ferrero factory in Belgium suspends all activities following salmonella outbreak
A salmonella outbreak, linked to multiple Kinder products made at a Ferrero factory in Belgium, continues to spread in Europe. All production has been suspended at the site, and products manufactured between June and the present date have been recalled. Giedre Peseckyte has more.

News from the bubble

Fuel for Ukraine: EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has pledged to finance 50,000 tonnes of diesel fuel for Ukrainian farmers per week from Poland’s strategic reserve.

Mirror, mirror, who’s the fairest of them all: A new policy paper from the Europe Jacques Delors Institute published this week explores the concept of mirror clauses, in which it put forward 10 principles to ensure the compatibility of any EU agri-food mirror measure with international trade law.

Something fishy going on: This week, the Commission proposed a legislative amendment to the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund 2014–20 (EMFF), which would allow for additional crisis measures to support the EU fishery and aquaculture sectors in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It comprises financial compensation for additional costs, for income forgone and for the storage of products, and for the temporary cessation of fishing activities where they are currently unsafe.

Have your say: This week, the evaluation on whether excise duty rates on alcohol and alcoholic beverages have contributed to the proper functioning of the EU single market opened. Have your say here.

New support scheme: The European Commission approved, under EU state aid rules, the reintroduction of a Slovak scheme to support the development of forest management plans this week. The idea is to encourage the establishment of forest management plans to maintain and improve the condition of forests, as well as to promote their ecological, protective and recreational function, biodiversity and a healthy forest ecosystem.

Protest in Belgium: A number of stakeholders, including small farmers’ association European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC), together with Mouvement d’Action Paysanne and the United Federation of Breeders and Farmers Groups (FUGEA), took part in a protest against the purchase of land by retailer Colruyt in Belgium ahead of the World Day of Peasant Struggles on 17 April.

Peasant agroecology: ECVC also released a new publication this week on its vision of peasant agroecology, which it says is capable of offering solutions to the present-day major environmental, social, economic and political challenges we are facing.

New platform: Frozen food company Nomad Foods launched a new ‘Open Innovation Portal’ where partners can share new scalable solutions to help shape the future of food and support more sustainable diets.

Agriculture in the world

World Food Programme warns of repercussions of soaring food prices: The World Food Programme warned in a statement this week that its operational costs in 2022 will be going up €126 million in West Africa alone due to the ripple effects of the conflict in Ukraine pushing up food prices. The programme estimates this additional cost to their operations could have been used to give six million school children a daily nutritious meal for six months.

Agrifood news from the CAPitals

GERMANY

Germany promotes sheep grazing to protect environment. The federal environment ministry has allocated funding to a project in the Eastern German region of Thuringia, which aims to halt the decline in shepherd businesses. Grazing sheep and goats are used for landscaping and protecting biodiversity-rich habitats like meadow orchards or dry grasslands. “Species-rich grasslands are biodiversity hotspots”, environment minister Steffi Lemke said in a statement. “But without the maintenance provided by grazing animals, they could lose their biodiversity,” she added. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

LUXEMBOURG

Luxembourg disassembles swine fever protection. While many European countries still struggle with cases and outbreaks of African Swine Fever (ASF), the illness is officially recognized as eradicated in Luxembourg. Against this backdrop, agriculture minister Claude Haagen has now arranged to have 15 kilometres of protective barriers, which were originally put up for infection protection, disassembled. According to the ministry, the works are conducted in cooperation with French and Belgian authorities. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

SPAIN

Investigators uncover saffron fraud. The Spanish Guardia Civil has found that a group was selling modified gardenia extract, which has a significantly lower harvest price, from China as saffron across the country. According to the portal Food Safety News, eleven people have been arrested, and three companies are being investigated for crimes against public health and fraud. Saffron is extremely costly to harvest, as it can only be harvested by hand. Meanwhile, gardenia, which can be intensively harvested, has a similar colour to saffron but is not approved as a food product within the EU.

GREECE

Communication between farmers and ministry improving. The share of Greek farmers satisfied with the communication they have with the ministry of food and rural development increased to 54% according to a nationwide survey conducted in March by KapaResearch on behalf of the ministry. The aim of this survey was to measure farmers’ response to the digital services of the ministry after the submission of the new CAP Strategic Plan. The ministry has designed a plan to provide new digital services. These include improving the communication of the ministry with producers and companies in the agri-food sector, reducing bureaucracy in farmer support programmes and enhancing digital interoperability between services and agencies. (Georgia Evangelia Karagianni| EURACTIV.gr)

ALBANIA

Albanian agribusiness gets millions in credit from development bank. An agreement to offer more funds to Albanian agribusiness companies has been signed between the country and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in a ceremony in Tirana. Read the full story here.

CROATIA

Repercussions of Ukraine war make things worse for Croatian cattle breeders. During the last two years, businesses in the Croatian animal husbandry sector have faced serious disruptions, which have been additionally worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to keynote speeches delivered at the start of a conference of cattle breeders. The two-day conference brought together cattle breeders and representatives of the Croatian ministry of agriculture and food agency. Zdravko Barać of the agriculture ministry told the event that in the last two years, the ministry had implemented a set of aid schemes worth 171 million kuna (€22,8 million) and to date, 140 million kuna (€18,6 million) have been disbursed. Despite some problems, production per (animal husbandry) business has increased by 13.5% since last year, the deputy head of the Croatian food agency, Krunoslav Karalić, said. (Željko Trkanjec, Euractiv.hr)

UK

UK farmers up in arms over Australia free trade deal. This week, the Trade and Agriculture Commission released a report exploring whether measures in the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the UK and Australia are consistent UK standards of animal or plant life or health, animal welfare and environmental protections. According to the UK National Farmers’ Union (NFU), this “missed the opportunity to reach a genuinely innovative and world-class FTA with Australia”.  “This deal will pave the way for others to follow and I’m increasingly concerned about the cumulative impact of the government’s FTA programme, especially as its own impact assessments anticipate a negative economic impact on UK farmers,” NFU President Minette Batters warned.

Events

17 April | International Day of Peasant Struggles

20 April | European Parliament: COMAGRI meeting

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