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"Make the most of Ulster produce" says MEP

16 March 2006

DUP MEP Jim Allister has launched a two-pronged initiative to encourage the more active promotion of Ulster produce.  Under EU Regulations, dating from 1992, it is possible to promote and secure special protection for "regional specialities" and this has been widely used by several European countries to their considerable economic advantage.  The enhanced protection gives the product a standing in the market place so that the producers can reap higher returns.  In the Member States which use the scheme, the added value achieved is estimated at around 5.2 billion a year, of the corresponding impact on job creation and retention in rural areas.

Mr Allister has discovered that though there are approximately 30 UK commodities which enjoy this protected designation, there are none from Northern Ireland, yet we famously produce bakery products such as wheaten and soda bread, notable Ulster beef, Lough Neagh eels and Armagh bramley apples, to name but a few distinctive products.

In his initiative to draw attention to the failure to adequately promote Ulster produce the MEP spoke on the matter in a debate in the European Parliament and wrote directly on the issue to the Agriculture Minister, Lord Rooker.  The relevant extracts from the Strasbourg speech and the letter to the Minister are set out below.

Strasbourg speech

"Protecting regional specialities is right and necessary.  Regions have the right to exploit and protect such for their economic benefit.  I note that it is estimated that in those Member States where this is done, around 5.2billion euros a year is achieved in terms of added value by promotion of such geographical indications, with a corresponding positive impact on job creation and population retention in rural areas.

My sole regret is that, to date, my region, Northern Ireland, has not yet availed of this facility, though we are rich in such commodities.  Ulster beef - which all Europeans will soon be able to savour again - has a taste and quality which makes it renowned and which caused the "Greenfield" label to be synonymous with highest quality.  Our wheaten and soda bread are "must taste" delicacies and Armagh bramley apples have a distinct reputation.  I am therefore calling on the British Government to avail forthwith of the opportunities available under these regulations and to promote local produce to optimum benefit.

In terms of these Regulations, a complaint which I have encountered is that the process of application is unduly burdensome and bureaucratic. I would, therefore, make a plea that maximum effort should be made to simplify the process so that regional products might be more swiftly protected and promoted.

In the context of the WTO it is vital that Europe defends the rights accrued under these Regulations and does not give in to the pressure coming from third countries.  I agree strongly with our Rapporteur that the EU must use all its clout and diplomatic skill to defend geographical indications. While we should take encouragement from the WTO Dispute Settlement Body's rejection of the recent attacks by the United States and Australia, we cannot afford any sense of complacency."

Letter to Minister

Dear Minister,

The European Parliament has recently considered the provisions which permit producers of 'regional specialities' special protection, under Regulations (EEC) No 2081/92 and 2082/92. This can be on the basis of 'protected designation of origin (PDO)', 'protected geographical indication (PGI)' or 'traditional speciality guaranteed (TSG)'. 

The importance of this facility is that it is a way of adding value to production in rural areas of Europe.  The reputation acquired by the designated products allows their producers access to higher-priced markets.  In France and Italy alone, the market value of products protected in this way is estimated at over 10 billion and a recent report to the Strasbourg Parliament claimed that in the Member States making use of this scheme, the added value achieved by geographical indications is estimated around 5.2 billion per year, with a corresponding impact on job creation and retention in rural areas.

A variety of agricultural products and foodstuffs originating in the United Kingdom enjoy the protection offered under these Regulations.  Examples are appended.  However, on examination of the list of protected items, I was dismayed to find that not one single item from Northern Ireland is featured on this list.  Being a country noted for its meat, bacon, poultry and dairy produce and where home grown produce contributes to the growth of the economy through trade and tourism, I am amazed that no action has been taken to protect the abundance of traditional specialities which Northern Ireland is renowned for, such as Comber potatoes, Ulster beef, wheaten, soda and potato breads, Lough Neagh eels, and our Armagh bramley apples, to name but a few.  Why have we not made progress on this front and will you now ensure that the Department addresses this issue so that any available added economic value for Northern Irish produce might be maximised?

List of UK protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications

 Beacon Fell traditional Lancashire cheese
 Bonchester cheese
 Buxton Blue
 Dorset Blue cheese
 Dovedale cheese
 Exmoor Blue cheese
 Single Gloucester
 Swaledale cheese, Swaledale ewes' cheese
 Teviotdale cheese
 West Country farmhouse Cheddar cheese
 White Stilton cheese, Blue Stilton cheese
 Orkney beef
 Orkney lamb
 Scotch beef
 Scotch lamb
 Shetland lamb
 Welsh beef
 Welsh lamb
 Arbroath Smokies
 Scottish Farmed Salmon
 Whitstable oysters
 Cornish Clotted Cream
 Jersey Royal potatoes
 Kentish ale and Kentish strong ale
 Newcastle brown ale
 Rutland bitter
 Gloucestershire cider/perry
 Herefordshire cider/perry
 Worcestershire cider/perry

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Agriculture and Environment