In France, products like wines, cheeses, butters and other agricultural goods can benefit from seals of quality and origin. These applications have to be validated by public authorities and are then the subject of regular monitoring. Whether it is organic farming label, designations of origin, label rouge or traditional specialty, these seals guarantee to the consumers a very rigorous method of production and food of great quality.
A WIDE VARIETY OF PRODUCTS, THE RESULT OF FRANCE’S OWN DIVERSITY
Thanks to the diversity of its lands and climates and its traditional skills passed on from generation to generation, France has for centuries developed products whose tastes are specific and unique. All signs of quality and origin were created to protect the savoir-faire and the tradition linked to the method of production of those products.
The history of these symbols dates back to the beginning of the 20th century when the first definition standardized of a geographic area was proposed for wine regions. However, it was only during the 1930s that the law enacting the first origin symbols was reviewed. Its main goal was to better promote the tradition, skills and methods of production revolving around those products.
This was made possible thanks to Joseph Capus, senator and former French agricultural secretary, who changed with this law the future of wines and of the other products of terroir. The first ‘Appellation d’Origine Controlée’ – controlled designation of origin, was Arbois, a Jura wine, in 1936.
From then on a wide diversity of products was designed with seals of origin and quality. The system now includes also cheese, fruit, vegetable, meat, delicatessen, fish, shellfish.
The policy regarding signs of quality and origin is a way to foster rural and regional development and to preserve local skills as well as the diversity of agricultural production and thereby biodiversity, landscape variety and natural resources.
SIGNS OF QUALITY AND ORIGINS, A GOVERNMENT GUARANTEE
The policy on the quality and origin of agricultural products implemented by the French Ministry of Agriculture is a longstanding one. It was first applied more than a century ago! The main goals of this policy are:
- To improve the ability of consumers to choose food of high quality, typical of a region or produced in an environmentally friendly manner.
- To foster rural and regional development and to contribute to the economic activity in rural areas, the preservation of local ‘savoir-faire’ and the preservation of the diversity of agricultural production and thereby biodiversity, landscape variety and natural resources.
- To fight against illicit use of product names inside the European Union.
- To allow producers and economic actors to extract more value from their product.
The system of signs identifying quality and origin is based on a joint commitment by government and professionals (farmers, processors, distributors …) to give consumers a guarantee for products whose origin and quality meet their expectations and enable them to make informed choices.
This system is based on three principles:
- Professionals give voluntary commitments to implement and monitor programs focused on origin and quality either individually (organic farming) or collectively (the other official signs). Product quality must imperatively be defined by a set of mandatory specifications drafted by professionals and validated by the authorities.
- The authorities exercise oversight of the implementation of the system: the Ministry of Agriculture defines policy on food quality and has authority over the system of seals identifying quality and origin; INAO (a French public body) manages the quality and origins seals and the Agence Bio is responsible for developing and promoting organic farming.
- Regular inspections are carried out by independent, impartial and competent bodies.
THERE ARE FOUR TYPES OF SEAL OF QUALITY AND ORIGIN:
1) A GUARANTEE OF QUALITY LINKED TO ORIGIN
- AOC or the ‘Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée: This sign, the oldest one, designates a product of which all steps of production are realized according to an admitted skill in a specific geographic area, the ‘terroir’, which is supposed to give its characteristics to the product.
- The Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) is the European equivalent guarantee. It protects a product’s name in every country in the European Union.
- In France, some 364 wines and spirits, 49 dairy products (most of them are cheese) and 42 other agricultural products are protected by designations of origin: the Chablis, the Bordeaux, the Roquefort or the Olive oil from Corse are all under the AOC label.
- PGI or Protected Geographical Indication guarantees the link between a product and its geographical origin.
The Rice of Camargue, the prune of Agen or the ham of Bayonne are protected by a PGI which means that they cannot be produced outside of these areas.
2) A GUARANTEE OF A SUPERIOR QUALITY
The Label Rouge is a French sign which guarantees that products have a superior level of quality by the way they are produced or manufactured compared to other products from the same category. The product must comply at every stage in its production or preparation with a set of mandatory specifications.
Many agricultural and agribusiness products (over 500) have a Label Rouge, like smoked salmon, chicken, deli products, fish products …
3) A GUARANTEE OF A TRADITIONAL METHOD OF PRODUCTION OR OF A TRADITIONAL RECIPE
-The TSG or Traditional Specialty Guaranteed guarantees the traditional character of a product.
The Ham of Serrano, the Gueuze (beer) are under this label.
4) A GUARANTEE OF THE RESPECT OF THE ENVIRONMENT
-Organic Farming guarantees that the method of production is respectful of the environment and guarantees a high level of animal welfare. The rules that supervise this way of production are the same in all European countries, and imported goods are subject at the same requirements.
Today, these symbols exist to identify an agricultural product, its authenticity linked to its geographic origin and/or its method of production. They vouch for its qualities resulting from typical methods of production and a specific origin. These signs refer to a specific place, a specific time, a specific regional culture and skills, a brilliant mix between terroir, savoir-faire and high quality!
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