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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » December 30, 2010
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Regional and Traditional Products: Protecting Quality
December 30, 2010   
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Poland's entry to the European Union in 2004 enabled Polish agri-food producers to protect their regional and traditional products.

The production, protection and promotion of quality foodstuffs plays an increasingly important role in EU countries. Granting quality labels to agri-food products made in specific regions or produced in a traditional way is part of the EU’s quality policy.

The system for protecting and promoting regional and traditional products is an important factor contributing to the sustainable development of rural areas. It also helps the EU carry out its Common Agricultural Policy. The system enhances the incomes of agricultural producers and contributes to diversifying employment opportunities in rural areas by creating non-agricultural sources of livelihood.

The use of special labels makes it easier to identify products and protect them against the unlawful use of registered names, and to promote products with special features and specific origin. It also enables producers of unique quality foods to become established on the market.

The production of regional and traditional foods may contribute to the development of rural areas through the diversification of agricultural activities and the promotion of the countryside. Additionally, the system supports the development of the rural economy because traditional production methods are far more labor-intensive. As a result, it is possible to increase employment in the agriculture sector. This is important, especially in underprivileged areas where land is difficult to farm.

The quality policy pursued by the EU gives consumers the certainty that they will buy quality foodstuffs produced in a traditional way. Additionally, because of a large variety of products available on the market, consumers expect clear and detailed information about the quality and origin of individual agri-food products.

The French have come up with the first regulations designed to protect regional specialties. The regulations, adopted in the 1930s and initially applying to wines, were later transferred to other countries in Europe. They stimulated the production of regional and traditional products, and helped attain the objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy, one of the priorities being to reduce the amount of food produced in Europe while improving its quality.

Three symbols
A set of three symbols were introduced in 1992 under the Common Agricultural Policy for regional and traditional products: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG). The first two are based on geography—a specific region, place or, in exceptional places, a country. In the case of Protected Designation of Origin, the product must be produced, processed and prepared in the designated geographical area, while the quality or characteristics of the product must be due to the natural and human factors of the area. In the case of Protected Geographical Indication, it is enough if one of the three stages—production, processing or preparation—takes place in the designated area.

Traditional Speciality Guaranteed means an agricultural product or foodstuff with a special feature or features that set it clearly apart from other similar agricultural products or foods belonging to the same category. Its special character is not derived from the way in which the product is displayed or from its packaging. The term “traditional” means that the product has been present on the Community market for at least 25 years.

In contrast to Protected Designation of Origin and Protected Geographical Indication, a product with Traditional Speciality Guaranteed status does not have to be made in a designated geographical area. The product may be manufactured throughout the country without any territorial designation.

Protecting these products against the unlawful use of their name or imitation is also designed to contribute to diversifying the range of agri-food products available on the market and provide consumers with more information about the products they buy. Diversifying agricultural production and supporting the manufacture of quality products are two important elements of the rural development policy. Many of the products that have been awarded PDO, PGI or TSG status are made in areas with poor soil or difficult climatic conditions (one example is “mountain” cheeses) or with the use of labor-intensive production methods.

Products protected as regional are more competitive on the market. Additionally, a product whose origin is guaranteed by the EU contributes to raising the region’s profile and encourages visits to the region, supporting the development of tourism.

Consumers buying a quality product learn about its producer and the natural and cultural environment in which the product has been made. The PDO, PGI or TSG logo on the product shows that the product is genuine and of high quality. As a result, the prospective buyer can make a more informed choice while shopping. In this case, the price is not the most important factor behind the decision to buy. Due to the relationship between the product and its region, the decision to buy marks the beginning of the consumer’s contact with the region’s unique culture, tradition, history, community and nature.

Polish specialties
The law on registering and protecting the names and designations of agricultural products and foodstuffs and on traditional products has been in force since 2005 when Poland adapted its regulations to EU standards. Under the law, Polish producers can take advantage of the European system for the registration and protection of regional and traditional products and apply to have their products registered by the European Commission.

In Poland, the authority running the registration system for products of specific geographical origin and of special traditional quality is the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The ministry accepts and examines applications for the PDO, PGI or TSG logos and submits these applications to the European Commission.

Apart from provisions concerning the registration of names at the EU level, the law also contains provisions about the List of Traditional Products. The list includes products made by traditional methods used for at least 25 years. The products’ quality or their exceptional features or properties stem from the use of traditional production methods, and are part of the cultural heritage of the region and the identity of the local community. The list now contains more than 800 products.

Poland has considerable potential to make traditional and regional products because of its traditional model of agriculture, family farms, labor force available in rural areas, clean natural environment and rich and diverse cultural heritage. One barrier hampering the development of such products is that Polish farmers rarely produce foodstuffs in their final form and rarely directly sell highly processed products on a large scale.

Regional products have growing market potential. In Italy and France, sales of products included on the EU list totaled 9 billion euros in 2009. The Italians are record holders in terms of the number of regional products registered. They protect more than 180 foods in this way, including their famous cheeses, cold cuts and wines. Polish regional specialties are now at the beginning of the road to winning over consumers. So far Polish producers have managed to register only 23 products. Admittedly, the registration process is long and there are dozens of other Polish products still waiting to be included in the EU list.

Nor is the registration process smooth and easy, as evidenced by the Oscypek cheese. The Polish application for registering the name Oscypek as a Protected Designation of Origin was submitted to the European Commission in February 2005. During the six-month period for member states to familiarize themselves with the application, Slovakia objected to the registration. Slovakia argued that registering the name Oscypek would be detrimental to the name Slovensky ostiepok. Slovakia had applied to the European Commission for the registration of Slovensky ostiepok as a Protected Designation of Origin. In May 2007, the European Commission called on the two countries to work out a common position. Poland and Slovakia reached a compromise. They concluded that the names Oscypek and Slovensky ostiepok refer to cheeses produced in a different way, although they have a common origin and tradition.

Poland and Slovakia agreed that the use of both names, Oscypek and Slovensky ostiepok, is legal. Additionally, Polish officials stated that registering the name Oscypek as a Protected Designation of Origin would not violate the right of Slovak producers to use the name ostiepok as a single word or in combination with other terms. Oscypek is made chiefly from sheep’s milk, with a possible addition of cow’s milk, however no more than 40 percent. Meanwhile, Slovensky ostiepok is made from cow’s milk with a possible addition of sheep’s milk. Moreover, Polish producers still use the traditional production method while in Slovakia the production method has been industrialized.

Finally, the registration process for Oscypek was successfully completed in February 2008 and the product was entered in the Register of Protected Designations of Origin and Protected Geographical Indications.

A.R.

For more information see: www.minrol.gov.pl
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