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Mariann Fischer Boel
Member of the European Commission - Responsible for Agriculture and Rural Development
Making a virtue of quality
IV European Forum on Food Quality
Brussels, 8th October 2009
[Ladies and gentlemen],
It's a great pleasure to join you today.
First of all, I really want to say something about the Qualigeo Atlas, which is being launched at this forum.
Well, essentially five words: What a great-looking book!
A few months ago I had the honour of writing an introduction for the Atlas. It really was an honour – because the project was a very exciting one.
Now it's great to see the final product. It's a very solid-looking book with a nice design – and of course the content will be extremely valuable.
Food is bought and sold in a market economy (perhaps I can be more precise: a "regulated" market economy). And in any market, a key element is information. People will only buy a product if they know that it's on offer – and if they know just how good it is.
In this sense, the Qualigeo Atlas is a giant leap forwards for consumers and therefore for producers as well.
I think it will be fascinating to leaf through the Atlas and take a look at all the wonderful kinds of food and drink which are covered by the PDO, PGI and TSG schemes.
But I'm sure the Atlas will also turn happy readers into happy buyers – buyers of products that they haven't tried before.
Just as new kinds of map made it possible for tourists to start exploring Europe in the 19th century, perhaps "food maps" like these will encourage the growth of "food tourism" in the 21st and get us all trying new things? Actually, I'm sure of it!
So it's great to see an initiative of this kind, and I wish it every success.
Of course, when it comes to "quality", although it's up to the private sector to actually deliver quality, the public sector has its part to play as well – by setting the right framework and giving the right policy support.
This is why it's important as ever that we keep moving forward with the review of the European Union's agricultural quality policy – even though there are other pressing challenges in the farm sector as well.
And in fact, we are making good progress. As you know, the Green Paper came in October 2008; we launched the Commission Communication in May this year; and key stakeholder representatives in our Advisory Group will meet tomorrow. The Commission expects to put legal proposals on the table a year from now.
The Commission still needs a lot of input – from all of you here, and from others. So I'm glad that this Forum has given an excellent opportunity for detailed discussion.
As you know, our policy review has a very broad scope. It covers the whole range of quality policy – not just geographical indications, but also marketing standards, certification schemes, and many other things.
It's important to keep this in mind: our concept of quality goes beyond geographical indications.
But geographical indications are an essential part of it — they're the European Union's 'flagship' quality scheme. They identify high-profile products with considerable economic value. In fact, they cover agricultural products and foodstuffs worth about € 14 billion a year [that figure excludes wines and spirits but includes beer].
And let's not make the mistake of thinking that geographical indications are just a "southern European interest". Recent research shows that, in economic terms, two 'northern' Member States figure in the 'top four' PDO and PGI producers. (Inexplicably, neither of these is Denmark.)
So this really is an EU-wide policy. It opens important doors for producers and policy-makers who want to give value-added products the best chance of winning a good market share.
Also, geographical indications are of particular interest for this forum. So although I don't want to make detailed comments about the whole of our policy review today, I would like to say a few words about PDOs and PGIs.
In general terms, one thing is very clear to me: we must be careful to keep to the "spirit" of the schemes.
We must bear in mind that these schemes are "quality schemes", not "quantity schemes".
Once a given PDO or PGI has been set up and the quality requirements have been established, it seems reasonable that any producer meeting those requirements should be able to use the label.
It would not seem fair to me that a given set of producers using the scheme could exclude other producers, simply because they wanted to restrict the quantities produced.
I think the producers excluded in this way would feel rather upset – very justifiably! And allowing this sort of thing would take us into the mindset of seeing markets as a cake of a definite size to be divided up between producers. This is the wrong approach. We should be looking to grow markets! We can do that: we have the skills and we have the products!
On the other hand, when newcomers arrive, of course they benefit from the reputation and market already established. This is in the nature of the schemes, but I'm sure we can find a way of taking into account the concerns about this issue.
So I say "yes" to regulation in one sense but "no" in another: "yes" to regulating quality, "no" to extra rules about quantity.
Now I'll come to the Commission's specific ideas for PDOs and PGIs.
First of all, let's be clear that a lot of these ideas (as set out in last year's Communication) are not a "done deal": there's still analysis to be carried out.
As you know, one idea is to merge the PDO and PGI schemes.
It's quite possible that a single scheme with a single label would be much easier to recognise for consumers, easier to manage properly and easier to promote.
Also, it might be more simple to manage in the international context – where the concept of PDOs is not widely recognised.
On the other hand, of course the Commission is listening carefully to all the arguments against the possibility of a "merger". There's more work to be done here.
Another idea is to create a single register for PDOs and PGIs.
The big potential gain here is simplification.
Currently, the overall list of protected products is spread between two databases (one for wines, one for agricultural products), an annex to a regulation (for spirits) and various annexes to international agreements.
Also, within European Union rules, the three types of product are covered by different regulations – which have different terminology and processes. This raises the likelihood of legal disputes in certain cases.
It seems logical that a single register would clear up all these problems.
It goes without saying that wine PDOs would still need specific rules on use of grape varieties under both ideas – either the single register of the merged system.
I would also like to make a point about geographical indications in processed products.
We're seeing geographical indications used more and more on processed products like pizzas. This is great to see: I think it offers real opportunities to the producers of the individual ingredients.
On the other hand, there may be a risk of abuse, as some groups have commented. What's the right response?
First, I should say that no complaint has been brought to the Commission on this issue.
Secondly, we should avoid any kind of heavy response that could suffocate profitable business operations and impose yet more costs — all to deal with a problem that might not even be there.
I'm convinced it is possible, certainly as a first step, to develop guidelines to clarify the advertising of PDOs and PGIs as ingredients in processed products.
I don't want to talk in any more detail now about our policy review: there will be better occasions for that.
Let me close with some more praise for the Qualigeo Atlas. It's a great product. And it's a great product because the European Union has so many great food and drink products to offer.
High-quality production needs the right policy framework. That's clear, and we're being careful about improving this framework.
But as long as we get that right, we don't need to be nervous about turning the excellence of our products into profit. We should be bold!