US lobbyists are calling for the UK to drop geographical name protections after Brexit to allow supermarkets to import American copies.
Under EU law, products including Melton Mowbray pork pies, Parmesan cheese, and Champagne have protected geographical status and cannot be made anywhere else. However, when the UK leaves the European Union it has to decide whether to maintain such protections or, as US lobbyists are urging, drop them.
It could mean British wine producers once again being allowed to describe some of their fortified wines as “sherry” but would also open the way for US competitors to sell rival products in the UK.
While many of the products US businesses hope to export to the UK would be copies of European goods, perhaps including Parma ham and Cognac, some could be replicas of UK favourites ranging from Scotch whisky to traditional Cumberland sausage.
One of the arguments for dropping geographical protections is that copies could be cheaper, without necessarily lowering standards, but negotiators will also want to consider the issue of whether a pasty can only be considered as Cornish if it is made there.
Protected statuses, known as Geographical Indications (GIs, or PDOs), have been granted by the EU to thousands of food and drink products across EU nations.
The US has long opposed such regulations, arguing that they prevent US food and drink makers selling their own products into EU nations – and are lobbying for the UK to change its rules as part of a post-Brexit UK/US trade deal.
Shawna Morris, of the US Dairy Export Council – which has been lobbying the US government on UK trade deals post-Brexit – said “preposterous” rules which allowed Italy to “monopolise” Parmesan, for example, should be reconsidered post-Brexit.
“We think the ability to take a fresh look at UK regulation through the Brexit process provides the UK with a great opportunity for taking a much more reasonable approach to what’s been a very controversial issue over the years,” she told i.
“So, for instance, there’s West Country Farmhouse Cheddar on the books, but any time I’ve ever asked anyone from the UK if they have any intentions to try to claw back Cheddar, the response has been, ‘Of course not, that would be preposterous.’
We think it’s just as preposterous for the Greeks to reclaim Feta.”
However, any moves in this direction from the UK would be likely to provoke a backlash from EU countries which are determined to maintain the protected status to preserve their own industries.
Riccardo Deserti, general director of the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, said he believed “sophisticated consumers” would “never purchase a phoney product with nothing in common with the original one”. In September, the EU Commission set out a position paper for Brexit negotiations insisting the UK must put in place domestic law enforcing existing GI rules, including granting “automatic recognition” to all GIs created after Brexit.
A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Leaving the EU gives us a golden opportunity to secure ambitious free-trade deals while supporting farmers and producers to grow and sell more great British food. We will ensure consumers continue to have a range of high-quality food products.”