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Producers Are Worried About What Will Happen to EU Protected Foods Post-Brexit

Currently, 73 British food and drink products—including Cornish pasties and Rutland Bitter—are protected under European law, covering them against imitation throughout the EU.
Photo via Flickr user Niklas Morberg

It's been a tough couple of days for Britain. After the result of the European Union referendum on Thursday, the country has been plunged into a Brexit-induced panic. While some are still in shock that their vote actually counted towards the "Leave" result, the Labour Party is collapsing around Jeremy Corbyn's ears, and the nation's pets may have to relinquish their EU passports.

But spare a thought for the humble pork pie. Or the Devonshire clotted cream that will be served atop many scones at Wimbledon this week. Or the hangover-curing black pudding.

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All of these foods—plus 70 more—are currently protected under EU law, which covers them against imitation throughout the EU. Following a British exit from the Union however, these foods and drinks could lose protection of origin status, allowing Yorkshire's beloved Wensleydale cheese to be made in Essex and Rutland Bitter to be ripped off by producers in Kent.

READ MORE: Brexit Has Happened and We All Need a Stiff Drink

Not only have we got to worry about the falling value of the pound, the authenticity of the Cheddar in your cheese and pickle sandwich could also be under threat.

Matthew O'Callaghan, chairman of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association and the UK Protected Food Names Association told MUNCHIES that although a country does not have to be a member of the EU to have its products protected (Colombian coffee, for example, also has protection of origin status), the UK would have to come to a new agreement with the EU to protect their products, and vice versa.

O'Callaghan said: "It is my understanding that our products having been approved by the EU will continue to have protection within the reduced EU, provided we have a reciprocal arrangement in the UK. However if EU law in future no longer applies to the UK, our protected food names would lose their protection within the UK, something the UK Government could remedy by passing similar legislation in the UK."

At the moment, there are three types of protection status for food under EU law. "Protected Geographical Indication" is given to foods "produced, processed, or prepared in the geographical area you want to associate it with," such as Dorset Blue cheese. "Protected Designation of Origin" applies to foods that are "produced, processed, and prepared in one area and have distinct characteristics from this area [..] using distinct local knowledge," like Orkney beef. Finally, "Traditional Specialty Guaranteed" status is given to foods that "have a traditional name and characteristics that distinguish [them] from other similar products."

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Several protectionist bodies have already spoken out against the potential loss of EU protected status. The Cornish Pasty Association (CPA), which currently holds PGI status for its product issued a statement last Friday lamenting the referendum result: "The CPA is disappointed in the result and will be pressing the government for clarity on plans to protect food names outside membership of the EU. In the meantime, the CPA will continue to operate as a collective of strong and resilient businesses keen to uphold the quality and integrity of genuine Cornish pasties."

However, not all food businesses have a negative outlook. Lance Forman, owner of London's oldest salmon curer H. Forman & Son, had been in the process of applying for protected status for his cured smoked salmon. He sees the status as a branding asset, rather than a way for deterring imitators, and actually voted for Britain to leave the EU.

READ MORE: We Asked UK Farmers What Leaving the European Union Would Mean for British Food

Forman explained to MUNCHIES: "I was one of the people campaigning for Brexit because the business would have benefitted from a 'Remain' vote as far as our PGI award status was concerned. I don't personally believe in protectionism and the reason we applied was to educate the public about smoked salmon and establish its origins as part of the London trade. If a company produces a great product, that's the best protection."

While foods with UK certified trade marks like Stilton cheese and Jersey Royal potatoes will continue to be protected in Britain, only time will tell how a post-Brexit food world will look.

Maybe it's best to stockpile those Cornish pasties. Just in case.