What’s the difference between ‘champagne’ and ‘methode champenoise’ when it comes to labelling? Food law specialists at Simpson Grierson explore the terrain.
What does the law have to say?
A geographical indication (GI) is a label used on products that come from a particular place and have a certain quality, reputation or characteristic that makes that product distinctive. Examples of well-known GIs include parmesan, champagne, Scotch whisky and tequila. These products are associated with the locality in which they are produced and are trusted for their quality and authenticity.
GIs are recognised by World Trade Organization signatories and offered international protection. For example, you can’t use the word ‘champagne’ on a sparkling wine made outside the Champagne region of France.
In New Zealand, GIs have generally been protected under the Fair Trading and Trade Marks acts and the tort of ‘passing off’. The Fair Trading Act prohibits misleading or deceptive conduct, which means, if a product does not originate from the area indicated or have the characteristics for which that area is known, it could breach the Act.
A GI can also be protected as a trade mark under trade mark law under the common law of ‘passing off’, which can be used to prevent a trader from passing their products off as those of another trader.
But now, wines and spirits in New Zealand have the added protection of the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act 2006 (the GI Act), which came into force in July 2017. The GI Act enables applicants to register a New Zealand GI identifying a wine or spirit as originating from a region such as Marlborough, Central Otago or Martinborough. NZ wines and spirits can, therefore, be differentiated from overseas products on the local market.
The GI Act also allows foreign GIs to be registered in New Zealand, identifying a wine or spirit as originating from a country other than New Zealand. Scotch whisky has been the first foreign GI to be registered in New Zealand. In order to be called a ‘Scotch whisky’, a product must have been produced in Scotland under certain production conditions, including being matured for a minimum of three years in oak casks.
Where’s the line in the sand?
Once a GI is registered, any wine claiming a certain registered New Zealand geographical indication is required to comprise at least 85 per cent wine obtained from grapes from that geographical region. The remaining elements of the wine must come from grapes harvested in New Zealand. Previously, the draft for the GI Act did not specify where the remaining 15 per cent of the wine must come from. For spirits, the entire spirit must have originated in the area to which the GI applies.
All GI users must also comply with any other requirements that apply to the specific GI they are using, such as a particular production process.
What’s coming up?
The wine and spirits industry aside, food producers are also increasingly aware of how vital it is to protect product attributes. Is this the start of the widening of the GI Act to include food? Can we look forward to GIs for Bluff oysters, Matakana blueberries, Central Otago cherries or Waikato dairy one day? Watch this space!