The system was first introduced in the early 1990s, and groups of producers have been able to apply for European approval for one of three designations: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PDI) and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG).
The intention of the system is to assist farmers and food manufacturers to distinguish their products and achieve a premium price for them, whilst preventing others from using traditional or regional names for products which do not comply with the traditional methods of production or are made outside the relevant region.
The three designations are similar, but with subtle differences: in the case of a PDO, the product must have been produced, processed and prepared within a particular geographical area and have features or characteristics which must be due to the geographical area. For a PGI, it is enough if the product has a reputation attributable to the geographical area in which it is produced.
In contrast, a TSG applies to a traditional method of production which results in a product which is distinct from other similar products, but the where distinctiveness comes from the traditional method of production, rather than the place where the food is manufactured.
Increasing numbers of food products have been registered for regional specialities right across Europe. In the case of the UK, 37 products have been registered so far and another 40 are being considered. Registered examples include Stilton cheese, Gloucestershire cider, Arbroath smokies and Welsh lamb.
Many of the British businesses who can claim a PDO or a PGI believe that the scheme does meet its aims. One reason for this is that product labels can use an official EU logo.
But while use of the logo has been optional until now, as of 1 May 2009 the appropriate name (Protected Designation of Origin etc) and/or the appropriate logo must be used on the labelling of any product which uses one of the registered names.
In addition, the colour of the logo for PDOs, has changed to red and gold, while the other logos remain blue and gold. The old blue and gold symbol for a PDO can, however, be used until 1 May 2010.
It is unusual for a producer to make a product in the specified way but then not want to claim the benefit of the PDO or the PGI. In future, they will have no choice: if a producer uses one of the registered names, such as Stilton cheese, then it must now use the PDO designation and/or the symbol.
The reality is that, although the PDO/PGI system took a long time to catch on, its true value has now been realised by British producers and we will see the logo on labels more and more often.
Owen Warnock is a partner at Eversheds LLP.