The famous Alsatian Choucroute (Sauerkraut) was finally recognized on July 3rd, 2018 as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) at the European level. It provides an opportunity to revisit the term “protected geographical indication” and the challenges it represents on the local and international level.
After obtaining its national protected geographical indication status in 2012, this summer, on July 3rd, 2018 (Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2018/938) the Alsatian sauerkraut obtained its European protection thanks to a local Association (Assocation pour la Valorisation de la Choucroute d’Alsace) which filed an application and fought for almost 20 years to obtain the designation.
Now 48 cabbage producers and 11 sauerkraut producers will comply with specifications in order to obtain a geographical indication starting from January 2019.
Alsatian sauerkraut should not be confused with the dish named “sauerkraut” as the national and European PGI only concern cabbage that is used as a basis of the dish.
The geographical indication was originally a part of national trade but with export expansion it has also became component part of international trade, and as such, it has an economic value and advantages.
The PGI does not constitute a property right. It intrinsically available to any person to use as long as they comply with applicable specifications.
The article 22 (1) of the TRIPS Agreement outlines two main purposes of Geographical Indication (GI): to identify a region or a geographic area and therefore the geographical origin of a product and to indicate the quality, reputation or other characteristics of a product.
At the European level, the Regulation (EU) No 1151/2012 of the European Parliament and the Council of November 21, 2012 on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs defined and established the protection of Geographical Indication.
Geographical Indication is a “name that 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, and at least one of the production steps of which take place in the defined geographical area.”
Alsatian Sauerkraut has been produces in Alsace since the 15th century in two regions – Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin, where cabbage grows successfully due to the soil composition and the climate.
Sauerkraut is linked to a specific expertise and manufacturing process that must be respected. Cabbage is placed in fermenting tanks where natural fermentation takes place due to lactic bacteria present in cabbage and in the environment.
Cabbage must be cut in thin slices and tossed with salt.
The manufacturing process and required expertise are set out in the applicable specifications.
Even though in consumer’s mind the PGI is often associated with quality guarantee, in reality this is not the case.
The PGI only aims to guarantee the origin of a product and the authenticity of manufacturing process.
The Court of Justice of the European Union defined the essential functions of geographical indication. It aims to protect manufacturers and production areas as well as consumers guaranteeing product authenticity in terms of geographic origin and manufacturing process (typicality – only for wine). These functions that were initially based on case law were enshrined in European regulations.
Three Regulations lay down the rules applicable to PGI: Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 of the Parliament and the Council of January, 15, 2008 on spirit drinks, Regulation (EU) No 1151/2012 of the Parliament and the Council of November, 21, 2012 on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs and Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013 of the Parliament and the Council of December, 17, 2013 regarding wine products.
Article 13 of the EU Regulation 1151/2012 grants protection to registered names against any commercial use in respect of products that are not covered by registration or in case where such use exploits the reputation of the protected name. It also protects against any misuse, imitation or evocation even in case when the true origin of the products is indicated and against any practice liable to mislead the consumer and any other false indication relating to the provenance, origin, nature or essential qualities of the product.
The protection conferred by a PGI is based on the rules relating to deception, fight against fraud, unfair competition and parasitism and makes it possible to protect cabbage grown in Alsace, for example, from cabbage grown and processed in other regions and countries using non-traditional methods.
Recognition of a PGI therefore represents a considerable economic advantage for local and international manufacturers. It also provides consumer protection by guaranteeing product authenticity.