A European Court of Justice verdict on a Protected Designation of Origin highlights the protection available for foods from particular EU regions.
Who: The Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano (The Guild of Parmesan Makers) (“CPM”)
The CPM based in Parma, launched proceedings in 1999 against Nuovo Castelli in respect of their "Parmesan" product.
A raid on Nuovo Castelli's warehouse by police had revealed that their "Parmesan" cheese which was being exported to other EU countries including the UK and France, was nothing more than a blended mixture of pasteurised cheeses of different origins under the name "Parmesan". Genuine Parmesan cheese had to be made according to a traditional recipe and matured for 2 years without additives. The CPM brought proceedings against Nuovo Castelli for misleading customers and bringing Parmesan's reputation into disrepute. The CPM had applied to register Parmesan as a "Protected Designation of Origin" ("PDO"), and this case tested the PDO's validity.
PDO designations became possible after the introduction of EU Council Regulation 2081/92 of 14 July 1992. A PDO product must originate from a particular area, be fully produced, processed and prepared in that area and have qualities and characteristics which are exclusively due to a particular geographical environment. Only groups of producers may apply for a PDO to be registered and the application must be filed in the member state in which the geographical area is located. After formal examination by the Commission and verification that the designation is not generic, the main elements of the application are published. If no statement of objections is filed within six months afterwards then the application can proceed to registration.
Amongst the first UK PDO registrations were White Stilton and Blue Stilton cheeses, followed by Orkney Beef, Orkney Lamb and Jersey Royal Potatoes.
Returning to the Parmesan case, the European Court of Justice determined that bearing in mind the CPM's application for a PDO in respect of Parmesan and the fact that it did not appear to be "generic", Parmesan was entitled to protection across the European Union and could not be used to market or sell cheese unless it had been produced in accordance with the requirements of the registration.
Why this matters:
PDOs, their slightly less demanding siblings Protected Geographical Indications, as well as the UK's own "Certification Trademarks" are all ways of building consumer confidence in goods that comply with a particular manufacturing standard. Also, a 1998 EU Regulation allows producers to use a special logo for PDO and PGI food products so as to enhance consumer confidence. To strengthen the credibility of the symbol characterising the agricultural product or foodstuff qualifying for the PDI or PGI, the name of the inspection service or body should be indicated on the label used to market the product. Whether or not EU consumers yet appreciate the full significance of these symbols is open to question, but so long as designations of the kind in question here do not operate anti-competitively and are not generic, it must be fair for their use to be restricted.