Town & Country
Protecting our food post-brexit
WHAT could be finer than a dish of Cornish sardines, washed down with a pint of Kentish ale and followed by a pudding made from Yorkshire forced rhubarb? Even better, these foods, which come under the EU’S Protected Food Name (PFN) scheme, are estimated to generate sales of £1 billion in the UK every year. Now, however, producers are nervously wondering whether such protection from imitation will survive Brexit.
The UK currently has 73 PFNS under the scheme—including delights such as Jersey Royal potatoes, Fal oysters, Cornish clotted cream, Arbroath smokies, Welsh lamb and Scottish salmon —guaranteeing the authenticity of regional and traditional foods, which may be classified as protected designation of origin (PDO), protected geographical indication (PGI) and traditional speciality guaranteed (TSG).
Defra confirms that it will continue to process applications for designation, such as pedigree Welsh pork and Vale of Evesham asparagus. ‘Britain is still a member of the EU and will continue to engage with EU business as normal, which means PFN status remains in place,’ explains a spokesman. ‘These foods are extremely important to our reputation as a great food nation and we will work to ensure they continue to benefit from protection.’
However, Shane Holland, executive chairman of Slow Food in the UK, thinks it’s ‘game over’ for PDOS awaiting protected status, a process that can take up to five years: ‘We can say with confidence they’re not going to receive it. The Denbigh Plum people are very upset—they’ve been seeking this for years.’ Mr Holland can see Brexit bringing limited positives for PFNS. ‘All products on the list are poten- tially at risk, even though they go beyond taste and enjoyment because of what they bring to a community,’ he adds, citing how the Cornish pasty (PGI) brought a muchneeded economic boost to west Cornwall.
‘Post-brexit, these will be easier to replicate. Brexit also weakens a protected product’s export markets and the opportunities to market them to a larger audience. A producer may only need a 5%– 10% sales downturn to send them into bankruptcy.’
Pig farmer Illtud Llyr Dunsford, chairman of Slow Food Cymru Wales, hopes that the Government will maintain a form of the PFN scheme with the Slow Food Foundation’s Ark of Taste, which has some 2,500 listings of small-scale, quality artisan foods, complementing it. He feels the latter offers better protection than the EU scheme, citing examples of PFNS being misused by third parties with no sanctions issued.
Dan Saladino of the BBC’S The Food Programme finds that most producers are confident that UK PFNS will continue to enjoy EU protection. ‘What they want is a Uk-based scheme with a reciprocal arrangement with the EU, so that protected names in the UK are recognised in Europe and vice versa,’ he reports.
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust, which supports Gloucester Old Spot pigs (TSG) and Manx Loaghtan lamb (PDO) with PFNS, is calling on the Government to prioritise food and farming. ‘Without assistance, we could lose as many as 200 of our rare and native breeds,’ comments chief executive Tom Beeston. ‘Even when it comes to food labelling, there is little or no protection of breed-specific products.’
Mr Holland concludes: ‘Those in the countryside losing a PDO as well as subsidies face a double whammy.’
Last month, former Defra Secretary Liz Truss said that she would like to see a British PFN developed and a scheme that would grade foods like listed buildings is currently being discussed. Julie Harding