First post-Brexit protected food not in conflict with existing EU geographical indication

Sheep grazing in the Gower peninsula, Wales. [SHUTTERSTOCK/HAWKES]

There is no overlap between the first post-Brexit geographical indication under the new UK’s framework and an existing one registered in the EU in 2003, EU and UK officials confirmed.

On 11 August, ‘Gower Salt Marsh Lamb’ received the protected designation of origin (PDO) status by the UK’s department for environment, food and rural affairs (DEFRA), becoming the first new food to grant such protection since the UK left the EU’s single market.

GIs are intellectual property tools designed to protect the names of specific products from imitation and misuse, as well as to promote their unique characteristics, linked to their geographical origin or to the know-how embedded in the region.

Previously, a total of 65 British foodstuffs were registered as GIs in the EU framework, including livestock such as Gloucestershire old spot pork, as well as Stilton cheese, Scotch whisky, and Jersey Royal potatoes.

All EU geographical indications already registered in the EU by 31 December 2020 – the “stock” – remain protected in the UK under Article 54 in the section of the EU-UK withdrawal agreement devoted to intellectual property.

A new post-Brexit scheme for GIs was set up and managed by DEFRA, under which the responsibilities of those producing and selling products using names protected under the schemes will remain largely unchanged.

The first foodstuff registered in this new UK scheme, ‘Gower Salt Marsh Lamb’, concerns meat produced from lambs born and reared on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales.

However, a ‘Welsh Lamb’ protected geographical indication (PGI) exists as a protected name in the EU since 2003 and was automatically registered under the new UK’s GI system after Brexit.

Although the Gower lamb belongs to a very specific area, the definition of geographical area for the Welsh Lamb registered in 2003 – “the mainland of Wales from the border with England, including the Island of Anglesey” – included the Gower Peninsula.

Contacted by EURACTIV.com, both DEFRA and EU sources dismissed the potential conflict between the two protected names.

Geographical indications: what will change after Brexit?

The protection of geographical indications (GIs) is unlikely to cause any great headache after Brexit, although care will be needed when handling it in future trade talks.

An EU source explained that the GI system protects names and not products, and in the case of ‘Gower Salt Marsh Lamb’ and ‘Welsh Lamb’ the only overlap is the generic term ‘lamb’, which does not pose a conflict that would prevent registration.

‘Gower Salt Marsh Lamb’ can still be registered even if the name overlap with ‘Welsh Lamb’, provided consumers are not being misled and one name is not free-riding on the reputation of the other, the EU source added.

The Gower Salt Marsh Lamb PDO applicant may decide to apply to the EU for GI protection, which DEFRA expects to be a routine process.

Before Brexit, ‘Gower Salt Marsh Lamb’ had already applied to the EU as a PGI in 2019, but the procedure was left uncompleted.

UK producers will continue to have access to the EU GI system and can apply for EU protection, like other third country producers, but needs to provide further information as a consequence of the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc.

In this case, the UK needs to provide the Commission with proof of protection in the country of origin as well as a copy of the full product specification, the so-called ‘technical document’.

As soon as these are received, the Commission will take the application forward.

According to DEFRA, producers that are separately verified to use both names can choose which they use meaning that, alternatively, a producer in the Gower area might choose not to be verified to use the Gower Salt Marsh Lamb PDO name and instead be verified to use the Welsh Lamb PGI name.

However, for the Commission both GI terms – if Gower lamb is successfully registered in the EU – can be used on the same product on the EU market, provided that production is verified by a control body in conformity with both specifications.

It is not unusual that two GIs are indicated on the same wine bottle – for instance, with the terms ‘Bordeaux’ and ‘St. Emilion’ which partly cover the same geographic area – although it is rarer in agricultural products and foodstuff.

Geographical indications found to double value of agri-food products

Agri-food and drink products whose names are protected by the EU as geographical indications (GIs) offer a “clear economic benefit” for producers in terms of marketing and increased sales, according to a study published by the European Commission on Monday (20 April).

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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