Case study: protecting local delicacies

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 17th June 2010

Comte Cheese - Sarah BowenGeographical indications – food products which are ‘trademarked’ only if they come from a particular production region – are an effective tool for countries to compete in a global economy, but good implementation is vital.

Some of the most famous products bearing geographical indications (GI) include Champagne, Brie, tequila and Bordeaux, all of which must be generically named unless they are made in their specific GIs.

Assistant professor of sociology at North Carolina State University, Dr Sarah Bowen, conducted a case study on two well-known GIs – tequila and Comte cheese – and found two very different outcomes.

“There are some key differences in how these GIs were designed that help explain why the tequila GI has largely failed to positively impact people in the tequila-producing region, while the Comte GI has been much more successful,” said Bowen.

Quality requirements for the product under the GI had a distinct impact on the success of the GI.

“The Comte GI recognizes and protects the complexity of the entire production process – from the treatment of the cows to artisanal cheesemaking techniques,” she said.

“But, although the tequila GI focuses on specific technical parameters that the final product must meet, it provides no guidance on how the tequila is actually produced. Because that guidance is absent, tequila production is becoming increasingly industrialized – and the traditional character of tequila is endangered,” said Bowen.

In addition, the tequila GI provided less protections for ‘terroir’ – a collection of geographical and cultural characteristics which give a product its particular flavour. While in Comte, traditional pastures for grazing were specified, tequila allows agave to come from anywhere within the GI region – including new plantations where agave has not traditionally been grown, driving down prices for farmers and creating new environmental threats to the area.

“There are lessons to be learned from these two cases,” said Bowen. “As developing countries consider the creation of new GIs, they need to think about how to craft the GIs in order to reflect the needs of their specific environment and culture.”

“The Comte case can serve as a model for how to develop a GI, but countries need to look closely at the specific conditions and challenges they face before creating their own GIs.”