A piece for Comment is Free
It’s a happy day for some sausage makers: Newmarket sausages are the latest food to be awarded Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status by the EU. The sausages now link happily with Arbroath smokies, Cornish pasties, Gloucestershire cider, “Scotch” beef and lamb, Welshbeef and lamb, Whitstable oysters and others. Italy has well over 200 PGIs (and PDOs – Protected Designation of Origin – a similar system of recognition), France around 200, Spain well over 150. Newmarket sausages becomes the UK’s 50th food product to earn European recognition for their quality, history and links with the local area.
I spoke to a tired but delighted Chris Sheen, MD of Musks Newmarket Sausage. “I made my first application 10 years ago,” he says. “It went backwards and forwards as they decided on a geographical area. Defra helped us with the application, then the EU sat on it for a year. By the end, we were on 18 versions of the application – there was a lot of mental aggravation when they kept coming back and asking for more changes, but it was all worthwhile.”
Good luck to Sheen: I hope he sells more sausages as a result of this. But the issue raises a number of questions. Promoting local foods is a sound idea in principle. If you live in Suffolk, it’s nice to help the local economy by buying its sausages. And if those sausages are any good – although I don’t remember having tried them, I’ve every reason to believe they are – then it’s worthwhile to bring them to wider attention.
But it’s not hard to foresee potential problems. After their efforts, producers of Newmarket sausages are now given a shiny badge with which to emblazon their packets. But earlier this year the EU rejected an application by Lincolnshire sausages for PGI on the grounds that there were already “too many variations” of the product in the UK. That was the only reason – too much replication. It was outside the remit to consider the taste of the food, or whether Newmarket sausages deserve to be given a commercial advantage over those from Lincolnshire, even though that’s the effect of this.