An interview with Mr Avv. Simone Calzi, Head of Legal Department of the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma, on the specific nature of GIs, their value for businesses and challenges in effectively protecting them.
What is the value of GIs for businesses?
Geographical Indications are invaluable tools and have priceless value for the exploitation of the product itself; they do not represent only “a product”, but a territory, a culture and a very long tradition of quality. Nowadays, consumers are constantly exposed to the pressure of a wide range of different options and offers on the market. This is the reason why it is very important to highlight, wherever possible, all the distinctive features and benefits that GI products can offer. In this context, provided that the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma (Parma Ham Consortium) has the official duty to promote and protect the PDO Prosciutto di Parma, our goal - as the Consorzio - is to spread and safeguard the concept and the intrinsic value of our PDO, specially on an international level. A mission that implies many aspects, all linked to a single, but broader meaning, which is quality and safety of the product.
Can you describe the structure of the Consorzio?
The Parma Ham sector has a very peculiar economic framework. It is mainly characterized by small and medium family-run companies, focused on a specific production, rooted in the southern part of the Parma province and associated to the Consorzio. Consorzio members now consist of 150 producing plants; currently, Prosciutto di Parma production amounts to 9 million hams per year, reaching a turnover of nearly 1.5 billion euros.
What could be an effective strategy to protect GIs in Europe?
This is a very delicate topic. As I explained, Geographical Indications do not represent only a product or a company; they embody - and therefore protect – the private interests linked to the PDO production, but also the value of the tradition, the territory, the history and the quality that stands behind the product itself. Prosciutto di Parma production and commercialization, it being a PDO product, have to strictly respect a rigid range of laws and regulations (national and European) that require attention, discipline, passion and true commitment of the companies, that are subject to many controls. In the light of the above, GIs need and deserve to be safeguarded by specific laws and regulations that allows the Consorzio – and the national authorities - to perform inspections and take all the necessary actions in the case of violations. Nowadays, thanks also to Reg. n. 1151/12, we can count also on the effective help of the so-called ex officio procedure, whereby the local authorities in the EU can directly act against GI misuses.
With specific reference to the modus operandi of the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma, we structure our protection approach through several inspections, conducted over all European markets, thus evaluating any violation detected in order to decide the proper action to be taken. In this regard, the Consorzio’s main goal is to “educate” both purchasers and consumers to recognize the real Prosciutto di Parma in order to allow the latter to make their choices with awareness.
We also work together with other GI consortia: AICG (Associazione Italiana Consorzi Indicazioni Geografiche), that is also committed to the promotion and protection of Geographical Indications, and of course with the institutions, such as the Italian Ministry of Agriculture (Ministero delle politiche agricole alimentary e forestali), Carabinieri del Nucleo Anti Sofisticazione (NAS) and Nucleo Anticontraffazioni -NAC. In this regard, we recently showed to the Italian Government the reports of a combined surveillance project developed with some other consortia to monitor and control the European markets with reference to any case of misuse, evocation and or violation of GIs.
What is nowadays the biggest challenge in fighting infringement of GIs? Can you explain the strategy of the Consorzio?
From our experience, the biggest challenge that GIs are currently facing is to be effectively protected in the Third Countries where GIs are not recognised and where the misuse and evocation of the PDO designation is, unfortunately, more recurrent than in EU countries.
In these cases, the lack of legal (and institutional) recognition of PDO products necessary implies a different approach, mainly grounded on different IP rights – such as trademarks - that are not sewed up on GI and that, therefore, is less effective than what it would be if there were a proper legislation dedicated to GI protection. Consequently, in those countries a concrete and appropriate monitoring activity entails a strong local surveillance, but, unfortunately, the Consorzio(s) often do not have enough human and economic resources to face these needs.
A similar series of difficulties arises also on the internet, where it is hard to guarantee a suitable level of surveillance, considering the speed that characterizes the web.
However, the Consorzio - with its legal offices worldwide - is working to strengthen the level of Parma Ham PDO protection through specific legal activities and promotional campaigns aimed to “educate” both purchasers and consumers to recognize the real Prosciutto di Parma.