Introduction to the EU Quality Schemes

Steeped in traditions of farming, food processing and food preparation which can in some product categories can be traced back thousands of years, Europe is renowned for its rich food culture and food quality and safety. The EU Quality Schemes which demonstrate and certify agricultural products and foodstuffs within the EU are separated into two distinct categories, the first in relation to origin and methods of production, the second is relating to organic farming (OF).

Protected Designation Schemes (PDO, PGI and TSG)

A product with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) label is one that draws its qualities or unique characteristics uniquely, or mainly, from the geographic environment within which it is produced, as well as the natural human contributions appropriate to it. Concretely, the entire process relating to the product, from production and processing through to preparation, must take place within this specific geographical location. Notable examples include ‘Maroilles/ Marolles’ cheese (France), ‘Queso Manchego’ (Spain), and ‘Prosciutto di Parma’ (Italy). As of early 2013, a total 558 PDO registrations exist in the EU, of which 5 from third countries (China and Viet Nam).

Protected Geographical Indications (PGI) is a name which identifies a product, originating in a specific place, region or country, whose given quality, reputation or other characteristic is essentially attributable to its geographical origin. At least one of the production steps of which take place in the defined geographical area. Examples which demonstrate the variety and depth of the PGI scheme include: 'Jambon d’Ardenne' (Belgium), 'Nürnberg Lebkuchen' (Germany) and ‘Českobudějovické pivo’ (Czech Republic). As of the beginning of 2013, 542 PGIs were registered in the EU, of which 8 originate from third countries such as China, India and Colombia.

The primary aim of the schemes is to register names and through this create and protect intellectual property rights.

The Traditional Specialities Guaranteed (TSG) quality scheme applies to products which have a certain feature or set of features which distinguish them from other similar products/foodstuffs in the same category. Whilst a TSG product must draw its quality from its traditional composition or manufacturing and production process, unlike PGIs and PDOs, no specific geographic delimitation is incorporated within the definition. Notable examples include ‘Vieille Kriek’ (Belgium), ‘Jamón Serrano’ (Spain), ‘Pizza Napoletana’ (Italy) and ‘Skilandis’ (Lithuania) – however, in total only 49 TSGs are currently registered across the EU (as of November 2014). 

In practice PGIs and PDOs enjoy identical levels of protection; PDOs represent a more geographically embedded production process, while PGIs allow for a broader more dispersed production chain. TSGs represent the outlier of the schemes; without the geographical connectedness.

International Recognition and Uptake

On an international level, there have been varying levels of recognition of EU quality schemes; the EU has concluded agreements that include geographical indication protection with many trade partners. The level of protection granted and the list of the protected geographical indications in each contracting party is defined in each agreement. List of countries ( ):

List of countries (in alphabetical order)

  • Albania
  • Australia
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Canada
  • Central America
  • Chile
  • Colombia and Peru
  • Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
  • Georgia
  • Korea
  • Mexico
  • Moldova
  • Montenegro
  • Serbia
  • South Africa
  • Switzerland
  • United States

A recently concluded DG AGRI EU-China project achieved the recognition of 10 EU quality designated products in China, with 10 Chinese namesproducts registered within the EU system, which include '龙井茶 - Longjing cha' and '镇江香醋 - Zhejiang Xiang Cu' as examples.

According to the latest data available, a total of 1,173 products are registered under the EU's quality schemes, with a further 281 at various stages within the EC's approval process (as of 30.09.2013); the Commission therefore reached its self-set target of 1,100 registered products by the end of 2012. However, over 75% of these originate from only 5 EU Member States, with 7 Member States having less than 5 registrations, and a further 3 with no products registered under any of the schemes.

As of 2010, the worldwide value of products registered as PDO/PGI (covering not only agricultural products and foodstuffs, but also wines, spirits and aromatized wines) by the EC was estimated at 54.3 billion euro at wholesale stage in the region of production (study done by AND-International for the EC see ), and thus equal to approximately 5.7% of the total food and drink sector in the EU27 (€956.2 billion, source: FoodDrinkEurope),. Wines accounted for 56% of total sales (€30.4 billion), agricultural products and foodstuffs for 29 % (€15.8 billion), spirit drinks for 15 % (€8.1 billion) and aromatised wines for 0.1 % (€31.3 million). It was estimated that domestic national sales remained the main markets for GI products (60%), intra-EU trade accounted for 20% and extra-EU accounted for 19%. With regard to agricultural products and foodstuffs, the study findings indicate that the highest wholesale value for one individual category of PDO/PGI is for Cheese, estimated at €6.3 billion in 2010. Despite the clear and demonstrated value of the PDO and PGI schemes, the level of turnover relating to the TSG scheme is currently unknown, however with only 40 names registered, the scheme is clearly undersubscribed and so it can be estimated the economic benefits are as yet not fulfilling its full potential.

Organic Production

Simply put, organic farming is an agricultural system aiming to produce food with minimal human impact on the environment and through an agricultural system which operates as naturally as possible. Organic farming relies on a number of objectives, principles and common practices designed to minimise the human impact on the environment, while ensuring that the agricultural system operates as naturally as possible.

Whilst organic farming can be considered to have had earlier origins, legislation in the EU in this field was initiated in 1991 when the first EU-regulation on organic farming was published. The current EU organic legislation sets out rules for plant and animal production, and for the processing of food and feed to be labelled as organic. Moreover, Commission Regulation (EC) No 889/2008 lays down detailed rules for the implementation of organic legislation, defining specific roles and control measures. Additionally, there are several private organic standards within various Member States, the majority of which have their own organic logo. However, all of these must apply the harmonised EU organic legislation as a minimum standard.

International Recognition and Uptake

Internationally, equivalency negotiations are progressing, and some agreements have already been reached to harmonise certification between countries and facilitate international trade. For example, as of February 2012, the EU and USA agreed cross-recognition of organic certification.

EU consumption of organic products has seen a steady rise in recent years and now constitutes about 2% of the EU market. The number of certified organic farms has also increased considerably in the past decade - more than 2% of farms (over 200,000 farms) use roughly 5% of EU agricultural area to produce certified organic food. Studies estimate that the EU market for organic products is growing by 10-15% a year, and the outlook for 2013 is positive.

Globally, organic sales have grown rapidly in recent years. In 2010, sales grew by 8%, and are now valued at EUR 44.5 billion. In China, the organic market has grown 400% in the past five years, while Organics Brazil reports an annual growth rate of 40% in the Brazilian market. Market analysts predict that organic sales in Asia will grow by 20% a year over the next three years. Thirty-seven million hectares of land worldwide are now farmed organically.

Quality Designation Schemes carry local agro-ecological and cultural characteristics, and have come to be valued as distinct and visible symbols of high quality and local traditions. Organic certification is the result of a growing worldwide demand for organic food, and is intended to assure quality, promote commerce, and prevent fraud. The EC recognises the growing importance and value of such schemes on the global stage with EUR 27.15 Million allocated for promotion of agricultural products in third countries in late 2012.