European food quality: national policies through modern challenges

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Modern European and global challenges affect all spheres of Union’s integration including such seemingly distant sectors as agro-products and foodstuffs’ quality. European food is famous in the world for being safe, nutritious and of high quality. Besides, national traditional production methods shall contribute to the EU’s objective of becoming a global leader for sustainability in food production. The European quality-signs, such as PDO, PGI, TSG and GI for several years proved customers’ active choice and preference in quality products: e.g. the sales value of goods with protected names recently doubled compared to similar products without a quality certification. The Commission also dedicates around €50 million every year to promote quality products in the EU and around the world.

   European challenges and food quality

  The Commission’s “green deal” from last December represents a continental idea towards such priority policies in the member states’ decision-making as climate-neutral circular economy, strengthened competitiveness, environment protection (as part of quality of life) and providing consumers with quality goods and foodstuffs.

   The “green deal” at the same time requires the member states’ governments to take decisive actions in preparing adequate workforce with new skills as the main instrument in realizing the EU’s priorities and challenges. Modern trends in circular economy, where economic growth is decoupled from resource use, are aimed at reducing pressure on natural resources providing adequate conditions for achieving both the climate-neutrality targets by 2050 and halting biodiversity loss. 

   Presently, about half of total greenhouse gas emissions, plus more than 90% of biodiversity losses and ground-water degradation are the result of natural resources’ extraction and processing.

   Bottom line: The circular economy and sustainability will definitely have net positive benefits in terms of GDP growth and jobs’ creation; thus, applying ambitious circular economy measures in the member states will both increase the GDPs and create around 700,000 new jobs. 

   More in the EU priorities and the green deal in:


   It is important to note that the EU’s “Circular Economy Action Plan” (11.03.20) is one of the main building blocks of the “green deal”, i.e. in the European new priority’s agenda for sustainable growth in the member states. Along the entire products’ life cycle, corresponding measures in the action plan aim at making the states’ economies fit for a “green future” while strengthening competitiveness, protecting the environment and giving consumers high-quality foodstuffs. 

On Circular Economy in:  


   Opportunities for growth

   Presently, the economies in the member states are still mostly linear: only 12 per cent of secondary materials and resources are recycled and brought back to production. Many consumer goods/products are easily damaged and cannot be reused, repaired or recycled; most are being made for single use only.

   These provide huge potentials for new businesses and initiatives to be exploited in waste management and quality products: therefore, a green deal is part of EU actions in transforming production modes while empowering consumers to make sustainable choices for their own and the nature- environmental benefit.

   According to the European Commissioner V. Sinkevičius (responsible for environment protection, oceans and fisheries), human natural products’ consumption in the world is rapidly increasing: thus, by 2050 it will “need three planets” to satisfy increasing human demands. Hence, the new EU plan will make circularity as the mainstream in the member states’ growth patterns and speed up the green transition in economies. Among the “tools” to reach the goal are: decisive actions to change the product design as “the top” of the sustainability chain; future-oriented actions in creating new business and jobs; as well as harnessing innovation, the digital transition and food quality.  


   Sustainable growth model –national priority   

  The transition towards a circular economy is already underway in most EU member states, with frontrunner businesses, consumers and public authorities embracing this sustainable model. The EU’s integration process will involve the circular economy transition to deliver progressive opportunities for all, leaving no one behind. 

   As was mentioned above, the “circular economy action plan” has become an integral part of the EU and the states’ industrial strategies, which include the following measures:

  • making sustainable products the norm in the states: the Commission will enforce actions towards “sustainable product policy”: i.e. to ensure that products placed on the EU market are designed to last longer, are easier to reuse, repair and recycle, and incorporate as much as possible recycled material instead of primary raw material. Products’ single-use will be restricted, premature obsolescence tackled and the destruction of unsold durable goods banned: only foodstuffs of high quality will be left on the market…
  • empowering consumers: consumers will have full access to reliable information on issues such as the reparability and durability of products to help them make environmentally sustainable choices with quality’s indicators. Besides, “consumerism” is to be eliminated from the national policies: consumers will benefit from new “right-to-repair” policies.
  • focusing on the sectors where the use of natural and human resources would “be final” and where potentials for circularity are high.


   With this in mind, the Commission recommended the following concrete actions in the member states: – electronics and ICT: the Commission’s “circular electronics initiative” is oriented towards longer product lifetimes, while improving collection and treatment of various wastes; – packaging: new mandatory requirements on what is allowed on the EU market, including the reduction of (over)packaging; – plastics: new mandatory requirements for recycled content and special attention on micro-plastics as well as bio-based and bio-degradable plastics; – food: new initiatives on extensive food-reuse to substitute single-use packaging, tableware and cutlery by reusable products in food services; – ensuring less waste: the focus will be on avoiding all sorts of wastes and transforming it into high-quality secondary resources to benefit from a well-functioning market for secondary raw materials.

   The Commission intends to explore an EU-wide harmonised model for the separate collection of waste and labeling; the plan also puts forward a series of actions to minimize EU exports of waste and tackle illegal shipments.

General reference:

  Additional reading and references in the Commission’s web-links: = New Circular Economy Action Plan website; = Factsheet: New Circular Economy Action Plan; = New video stock shots on circular economy: plastics; = A new Circular Economy Action Plan for a Cleaner and More Competitive Europe; = Annex to the new Circular Economy Action Plan for a Cleaner and More Competitive Europe; = Staff working document ‘Leading the way to a global circular economy: state of play’; = Eurobarometer survey: Protecting the environment and climate is important for over 90% of European citizens; = First Circular Economy Action Plan website.

   EU quality product’s schemes

   More than 3 thousand names of specific products (such as foodstuffs, agricultural products, wines, spirit drinks, aromatized wine products, etc.) are protected by the European Union institutions. Generally, these products belong to one of four EU quality schemes:

       Geographical Indication (GI),

       Protected Designations of Origin (PDO),

       Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), as well as

       Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG).

   The aim of the EU quality schemes is to contribute to the evaluation of the overall functioning of the European quality products with the focus on the registered names appeared from the EU states on sale of products within the Union’s borders as well as the products from the third countries sold on the EU internal market.


   EU quality schemes aim at protecting the names of specific products to promote their unique characteristics, linked to their geographical origin as well as know-how embedded in the region. These product names are part of the EU system of intellectual property rights, legally protecting them against imitation and misuse. Agro-food products and wines are protected signs as Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI or just GI); the spirit drinks, mostly wins, are having signs of Protected Geographical Indications (PGI).


   Quality’s economic value 

   The EU is also protecting Traditional Specialities Guaranteed (TSG), highlighting the traditional aspects of a product without being linked to a specific geographical area; the sales value of agricultural products and foodstuffs labeled as TSG is worth €2.3 bn.

Agricultural food and drink products whose names are protected in the EU as “Geographical Indications” (GIs) represent a sales value of €74.76 bn; over one fifth of this amount results from exports outside the EU. Besides, the sales value of a product with a protected name is on average double that for similar products without a certification. 

More in the Commission’s study:


   The EU Commissioner for agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, noticed that the European geographical indications reflect the quality and diversity of EU’s agricultural sector. Besides, the producers benefit in the ways of selling products at a higher value, while consumers can find authentic regional products.

Geographical indications represent also key aspects of the EU’s external trade: by protecting products across the globe, the EU producers prevent fraudulent use of product names and preserve a good reputation of European agro-food and drink products; in this way geographical indications protect local value at the EU and global level.


   “Sings” of quality

   Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), and Protected of Geographical Indications (PGI, or simply GI) for spirit drinks guarantee to consumers that the concerned produce is genuinely made in its specific region of origin, using know-how  and  techniques embedded in the region. The main difference between the PDO and the PGI is related to how much of the raw materials come from the area or which steps of the production process are taking place in the specific region. Famous geographical indications (PGI) include, e.g. Bayerisches Bier (Germany), Champagne and Roquefort (France), Irish whiskey, Kalamata olives (Greece), Parmigiano Reggiano and Queso Manchego (Italy), Polish Vodka, etc.

   Traditional specialty guaranteed (TSG), on the other hand, highlights the traditional aspects such as traditional production method or traditional composition, without being linked to a specific geographical area. Examples of famous TSG are Bacalhau de Cura Tradicional Portuguesa, Amatriciana tradizionale, Hollandse maatjesharing, and Kriek.


   Recent EU’s study revealed 3,207 product names protected in the EU-28 at the end of 2017; by the end of March 2020, the total number of protected names increased to 3,322. Besides, there is a clear economic benefit for producers in terms of marketing and increase of sales thanks to high quality and reputation of these products, and willingness of consumers to pay to get an authentic quality product.

The Commission’s analysis has shown that the following “quality’s advantages”:

a)   Significant sales value: Geographical indications and traditional specialities guaranteed all together accounted for an estimated sales value of €77.15 bn in 2017, 7% of the total sales value of the European food and drink sector estimated at €1,101 bn in 2017. Wines represented more than half of this value (€39.4 bn), agricultural products and foodstuffs 35% (€27.34 bn), and spirit drinks 13% (€10.35 bn). Out of the 3,207 product names that were registered in 2017 (both GI and TSG), 49% were wines, 43% agro-food products and 8% spirits drinks.

b)    Higher sales premium for protected products: the sales value of the products covered by the study was on average double than the sales value for similar products without a certification. The value premium rate stood at 2.85 for wines, 2.52 for spirits and 1.5 for agricultural products and foodstuffs.

c)     Representing “truly European policy”: each EU country can produce foodstuffs whose names would be protected at EU level and serve as flagships for the traditional culinary heritage of regions and as economic drivers for a national agro-food sector.

d)   Increasing PGI-exports: geographical indications represent 15.5% of the total EU agro-food exports. Wines remained the most important product both in terms of total sales value (51%) and extra-EU trade share (50%). The U.S., China and Singapore are the first destinations for the EU’s GI products, accounting for half of their export value.

   The Commission launched in April 2019 a public database “e-Ambrosia” – the EU Geographical Indications registers, which presently includes geographical indications for all agro-food products, wine and spirit drinks registered and protected in the EU.


Note: To acquire PDO or PGI needs producer’s serious efforts: it is not that easy to get a quality registration for national foodstuffs. The following examples among the Baltic States (in food sector registered during last 5 years) are showing that only a few foodstuffs have got the necessary EU’s approval: Kaimiškas Jovarų alus and two cheeses -Džiugas Cheese and Liliputas in Lithuania; Rucavas baltais sviests, Jāņu siers, Carnikavas nēģi and Latvijas lielie pelēkie zirņi cerials in Latvia; Estinian products were not so successful…

More in:


   To ensure that the EU quality policy continues to deliver at its best, an online public consultation took place during November 2019 to February 2020 to gather feedback on the policy from stakeholders. A majority of respondents agreed that the EU quality schemes benefit producers and consumers.

On a summary report from the public consultation in:


   The EU has concluded more than 30 international agreements, which allow the recognition of many EU Geographical Indications outside the EU and the recognition of non-EU Geographical Indications in the EU. Geographical Indications play an increasingly important role in trade negotiations between the EU and other countries. The Commission also dedicates around €50 million every year to promote quality products in the EU and around the world.


   More in the following web links: Study on economic values of EU quality schemes, geographical indications (GIs) and traditional specialities guaranteed (TSGs); = Leaflet with the main findings of the study; = Quality schemes explained; = EU quality food and drink.

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