How does European law protect food names?

Where food is made in a traditional way or made in a particular region European law enables certain food names to be registered. There are three ways in which European law classifies such foods for registration purposes. These are “protected designation of origin”, “protected geographic indication” and “traditional speciality guaranteed”.

The purpose of the law in this area is to encourage diverse agricultural protection and to protect names from imitation and misuse so as to help consumers by providing them with information about the specific character of an agricultural product or foodstuff. 

Once a name has been registered that name can only be used to identify foodstuffs or agricultural products which correspond to the product specification that has been registered for the foodstuff or agricultural product in question.

What foods can be registered?

Protected designation of origin

The term “protected designation of origin” is used where agricultural products and foodstuffs are produced, processed and prepared in a particular region or specific place, or in a particular country and where the quality or characteristics of that food or agricultural product are essentially or exclusively due to a particular geographical environment in which it is produced, processed and prepared. 

In the case of protected designation of origin, as a general rule, all the production, processing and preparation is required to take place in the geographical area concerned. There is an exception to this general rule, however, in relation to raw materials coming from a larger and limited area.  

There are certain restrictions for the registration of names. For example, generic names may not be registered. 

Products that have been registered as protected designation of origin include Yorkshire forced rhubarb, Staffordshire cheese and Roquefort cheese.

Protected geographic indication

The term “protected geographic indication” is used where agricultural products and foodstuffs are closely linked to a particular region or specific place, or a particular country and where the foodstuff or agricultural product possesses a specific quality, reputation or other characteristics attributable to the place in which it is produced, processed or prepared. 

Again, there are certain restrictions for the registration of names. For example, generic names may not be registered. 

Products that have been registered as protected geographic indication include Cornish sardines, traditional Grimsby smoked fish and Melton Mowbray pork pies.

Traditional speciality guaranteed

The term “traditional speciality guaranteed” replaced the term “certificate of specific character”. “Traditional speciality guaranteed” means a traditional agricultural product or food stuff recognised for its specific character.  The characteristics may relate to the product’s intrinsic features or to the product’s production method or to specific conditions connected with its production.

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For more information on:

  • How is a food name or type of food registered?