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The mark of authenticity

Carol Raithatha discusses progress towards developing a sensory evaluation guideline as part of the accreditation process for Protected Food Names (PFN) in the UK and the EU.


Provenance and tradition have become mainstream concepts in the food and drink industry and are often associated with high quality products. Regional and traditional foods represent an important element of the food and drink economy in some countries and can offer an opportunity for niche products. The EU Protected Food Name (PFN) scheme is a system for guaranteeing the authenticity of regional and traditional food and drinks. The UK is currently a member of this scheme.

Although sensory aspects of PFN foods are integral to their authenticity and quality, there is currently no common/generic official guidance as to how to determine, ensure or monitor the sensory properties. The European Sensory Science Society (of which IFST is a member) is seeking to address this situation by creating a guideline for the accreditation of protected products by sensory analysis.


Three levels of protection are currently available[1]:

•Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) – for a product produced, processed AND prepared in one area and having distinct characteristics from this area. The product must be made using distinct local knowledge.

•Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) – for a product produced, processed OR prepared in the geographical region associated with it and having a reputation, characteristics or qualities as a result of the area associated with it.

•Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) – for a product with a traditional name and characteristics that distinguish it from other similar products. The characteristics cannot be linked to the area where the product is made or to technical advances in production. TSG products can be made in any country in the EU.

PDO and PGI status mean that there is protection from imitations of the product being produced elsewhere and sold under the official name. PFN products must display the EU logo that applies to the protected food product on the food label.

This scheme has been running since 1992 and can be seen as equivalent to a type of intellectual property. Studies have shown that PFN schemes contribute to sustainable rural development and PDO/PGI products are known to contribute billions of Euros to the EU economy[2]. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)[3], as of February there were 85 protected food names in the UK including food products, wine, beers, ciders, spirit drinks and wool. Some examples include Beacon Fell traditional Lancaster cheese (PDO) and Melton Mowbray pork pies (PGI).

Sensory descriptions of PFN

The application to obtain EU PDO or PGI classification can be made by an individual or a trade group. A specification needs to be developed and it should include the product name, the area associated with the product, a proof of the product’s origin, the method of production, an explanation of the link of the product to the area and a description of the product. The description should give details of the raw materials and the main physical, chemical, microbiological and organoleptic (sensory) characteristics. The applicant must also nominate an inspection body which will check that the product matches its description. The specification for TSGs is slightly different and does not refer to an area associated with the product.

Although the sensory properties are quoted in the PFN specification, there is currently no common official guidance as to how products should be evaluated and what the format of the end description should be. Sensory descriptions in the specifications of UK PFN registered products can vary in presentation and level of detail. In addition, the process and methodology used for inspection/accreditation of sensory properties is not specified.

Guideline for the sensory analysis of PDOs/PGIs

The European Sensory Society (E3S) PDO working group has the aims of promoting the knowledge and application of sensory analysis to PDO products. Traditional local foods can also be considered but the stress is placed on PDOs. This working group is a network of sensory scientists interested in the PDO accreditation process, who are aiming to improve the professional status of members, enhance the knowledge of PDO characteristics and generate results useful to both producers and consumers. IFST Sensory Science Group is represented in this working group.

PFNs are quality products and their distinctiveness is a key factor of their success. They tend to be processed in small plants, which operate in a traditional way. Their sensory distinctiveness is appreciated by consumers. If producers do not devote enough effort to delivering specific sensory features, it becomes difficult to recognise the typical characteristics these products should have. Moreover, there is a risk that PFNs may become similar to other generic products of the same category made by large industrial plants. Evaluating the sensory compliance of PFN products compared to the description in their official specifications is currently a difficult task because there are no shared methods for such evaluations.

Given this situation, the E3S PDO working group has recently launched a project to prepare a guideline for accreditation of PDOs and PGIs by sensory analysis[4]. The work is being carried out in conjunction with the European Accreditation Organisation and other relevant stakeholders. The reference document for the project is the EA Publication Reference EA-4/09 G2017 ‘Accreditation for sensory testing laboratories’. It is envisaged that the guideline will include annexes with examples applied to specific classes of products (for example cheeses, cured meats, or wine). The project is expected to run for two years, with plans for a first draft of the guideline to be presented at the Eurosense conference in Verona in September 2018. 

The E3S PDO working group has recently launched a project to prepare a guideline for accreditation of PDOs and PGIs by sensory analysis.

Sensory guideline for PFNs and the UK context

The UK context for PFNs might be seen as different from that in many other EC countries, as there is less awareness and take up of the scheme in the UK. The focus for much of the promotion of the PFN scheme in the UK is towards smaller producers. This might result in a tailored implementation approach for the guideline in the UK.

According to Matthew O’Callaghan, Chair of the UK Protected Food Names Association, in countries such as France and Italy, there are many food manufacturers participating in the EU PFN scheme. He believes that they are far more used to the scheme as they have been using it for years. The companies applying tend to be larger, with support organisations regionally and nationally. He welcomes the initiative but is wary about the implementation and practicality and stresses that systems need to be relatively straight forward and simple to ensure that smaller UK food producers remain motivated to apply for and participate in PFN schemes. He explains that part of the problem of trying to get protected food names registered is engaging small producers, which can be put off by bureaucracy.

Stakeholders, such as the National Farmers Union, are lobbying for a continuation of food name protection in the UK after Brexit and have asked DEFRA to clarify its plans in this area.

PFNs and Brexit

The UK application process for PFN has two levels – UK approval followed by EU level approval. According to Defra, the entire process of getting a food or drink name protected can take up to four years. Given the current political situation in the UK, it is important to consider how Brexit will affect the PFN accreditation process. There are currently many unanswered questions, but the main options for the post-Brexit scenario are likely to be:

•Option 1: The UK will continue to use the current EU system and therefore the situation for PFNs will remain the same as at present. The benefit would be that current UK PFNs will continue to be viable throughout the EU. Future applications would also be possible. There is a precedent for countries outside the EU receiving EU PFN status for their products. For example, Thailand has four products (rice and coffee) with PGI registration in the EU scheme[5].

•Option 2: The UK will create its own PFN system that is compatible with and includes reciprocity with the current EU system, although it may not be exactly the same. The situation for the operation of the PFN scheme in this scenario would be similar to the present one. For example, since 2011, Switzerland has had a system that was developed to be EU compatible and ensure reciprocal recognition and protection[6]. The benefit as above would be current UK PFNs would probably continue to be viable throughout the EU, but there would be some flexibility in the design of the scheme. Future applications would also be possible. The EU has concluded agreements that include geographical indication protection with many trade partners other than Switzerland (including Canada and Korea). The level of protection granted varies by agreement[7].

•Option 3: The UK will create a PFN system that does not include reciprocity with the EU system. The implications of this are unclear but might mean that some UK products cannot be legally exported to Europe without a change in name and vice versa. In this scenario, traditional terms associated with EU products might be legally used for UK made and sold products. The benefits of a UK specific PFN scheme could be that the UK creates its own extensive range of protected regional and authentic foods and drinks, but it would probably be at the cost of reduced trade with the EU (in both directions) in authentic and regional foods. This option might also affect international trade in various ways depending on how UK PFN products are considered with respect to EU products.

•Option 4: The UK will not have any PFN scheme. The implications of this are unclear but might mean there is some difficulty in exporting some UK products to Europe, although European products would probably be allowed into the UK regardless of their PFNs. In addition, this would likely leave many traditional UK foods struggling to compete with larger producers[8]. This option appears to be the least likely to occur.

Stakeholders, such as the National Farmers Union, are lobbying for a continuation of food name protection in the UK after Brexit and have asked Defra to clarify its plans in this area[9]. A UK Government minister has described the protection of British food as an extremely important issue, and said that she hopes that at British PFN scheme will be introduced in place of the current EU one[10]. This looks likely, as in an interview in January 2018, Michael Gove, the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, stressed the vital role that PFNs play in the UK’s global food reputation and indicated that the Government is committed to upholding protection when the UK leaves the European Union[11].

According to O’Callaghan there are two types of producers within the scheme currently in the UK: those relying on it (in the absence of any other specific UK laws) for protection in the UK (for example Melton Mowbray Pork Pies and Cornish Pasties) and those who are more concerned about their ability to sell into Europe (for example Welsh Beef and Lamb and Anglesey Sea Salt). He stresses that the design of a PFN scheme in the UK after Brexit needs to be as seamless as possible with the current system.

IFST is keeping a watchful eye on developments within the PFN scheme. Stephanie Mitchell, Chair of the Sensory Science Group hopes that whichever option is adopted will allow for UK products to continue to be sold into the EU.  According to Sam Jennings, Chair of the IFST Food Law Group, the option we end up with will depend very much on the deal agreed with the EU. The PFN scheme falls into the same situation as other issues relating to food regulation after Brexit. The biggest problem at the moment is the uncertainty about what the deal will be.

Carol Raithatha

director, Carol Raithatha Ltd

Carol Raithatha Ltd is a UK-based consultancy specialising in sensory evaluation, consumer research, food & drink and  related sector research. Offerings include training, project management, development of procedures & guidelines, workshops and concept development, quality issues and management systems, desk and business-to- business research.













11. The Interview: Michael Gove. Speciality Food Magazine, January 2018.

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