Onomastics and Food Labeling Regulations

5383384526_19ae18883b_mIn addition to introducing regulations concerning the proper shape and size of food and beverages, the EU has also set a rigid system in place to protect food names against unauthorized imitation.

Within the United Kingdom, 63 different food names have been placed on the list of protected digestibles. A review of this list reveals that many of the food names are related to a particular geographical region. For example, there is Kentish ale which is different from a Rutland bitter. Among the protected cheeses, there are the Bonchester, Dovedale, and Swalesdale cheeses which are not to be confused with the Yorkshire Wensleydale, Staffordshire, or Teviotdale cheeses.

This means that when UK consumers buy a package with the label Herefordshire cider, they know that it did not come from Gloucestershire. The point behind all this onomastic protectionism is not only to provide transparency for the consumer, but also to offer regional producers with a certain degree of legal recompense should producers from another area attempt to cash in on their good name.

While all that seems straight-forward, the issue of food name protection is really quite messy. Say, for example, that the food being produced is harvested from a migratory animal…like a fish. Should an Alaskan King Crab really be called an Alaskan King Crab if it was caught off the coast of Russia or Norway? And what about foods which are grown in one place but processed in another? And while we are at it, what about foods which contain biotech ingredients? Should they be allowed to have the same name as so-called “natural” foods that do not contain such ingredients?

In partial answer to this last question, in a 275 to 175 vote, the US House of Representatives voted in favor of a bill (H.R. 1599) which blocks US states from mandating labels that clearly differentiate the genetically-modified from the non-genetically-modified.