The Italian perspective

22 April 2010

Licia Garotti, Linda Brugioni

High quality foods and Italy is a well known and long appreciated combination. This is not just a matter of Italian pride, but a matter that gives a further opportunity for competitiveness in the market.

The very recent legislative news should be read as direct consequence of the above.

“Pizza Napoletana”

Who does not know Italian pizza? Now you can make sure you taste real “Pizza Napoletana” only where you see this sign:

The above is, in fact, the result of the Commission Regulation EU No. 97/2010, which recognises the Pizza Napoletana as Guaranteed Traditional Specialty (“GTS” as provided by EC Regulation no. 509/2006). GTS protects agricultural and foodstuff products with a “specificity” connected to the production methods and composition linked to the tradition of a specific area. Even if a GTS product is not required to be manufactured exclusively within the concerned area, a specific preparation method must be followed.

The inclusion of “Pizza Napoletana” in the GTS register implies a specific production method for the preparation of the dough, the dough rising process, the garnishing and baking.

Moreover, by the conservation method used, the producers promise that if you order a Pizza Napoletana you won’t eat “frozen, deep frozen or vacuum-packed for later sale” products or ingredients.

The importance of protecting tradition and quality of foodstuff led the Ministry of the Agricultural Policies to support the launch of the McDonald’s McItaly.

Through the McItaly line the American giant will distribute certified Italian products on a worldwide scale, granting also the development of a new segment for the Italian agricultural products market.

We should mention that this launch raises, however, more than one eyebrow.

Associations supporting the protection of “Made in Italy” products challenged the McItaly line, claiming the devaluation of the characteristics of certified Italian products, including the environment of the product presentation.

The attention of the Italian Government to the protection of certified foodstuffs could be appreciated also by the strict system set to punish the non compliance with Italian and European regulations on certified foodstuffs.

A legislative project (“Progetto di legge AC 2260”) that was presented to the Italian Parliament one year ago (4 March 2009), grants the Minister of Agriculture, Foodstuffs and Forest Policies the power to take specific measures about foodstuffs labeling, providing special administrative sanctions for non compliance with the already existing regulations.

The new directives issued by the Minister, Mr. Zaia, obtained important results against the so called “agro-piracy”, which harms the name and, thus, the quality of the Italian certified foodstuffs. The number of sanctions issued increased of the 123% since 2008[1].

Italian case law further confirmed the importance of foodstuff protection, actively contributing to the guarantee of geographical indications.

The Italian Supreme Court[2] sanctioned the distribution of products bearing a Protected Designation of Origin (“PDO”) label without any indication about the effective provenance. In particular, the commercialisation of Grana Padano cheese bearing the PDO symbol, without the seal of Consorzio del Grana Padano was punished both under administrative law for the protection of PDO and under the Criminal Code.

The purpose of protecting the quality of food (and, thus, of consumers) was achieved also by the decision issued by the Italian Supreme Court[3] about biologic foodstuffs marketed under the CTM “BIO-ENE”.

The Italian judges considered that trade mark as in breach of Article 2 of the Italian legislative decree no. 109/1992 on packaging and advertisement of foodstuffs, according to which the use of a registered trade mark is unlawful when it is aimed at distinguishing products that, in reality, do not correspond to the indications contained in the trade mark, in this way misleading the public about the relevant characteristics, i.e. the provenance.

The Court also held that the valid registration of the CTM “BIO – ENE” does not prevent national Courts from ascertaining the capability to mislead the public on qualities of the marketed food, this kind of trade mark having a strong conceptual link to the specific characteristics of the product, such as “BIO” with organic or biologic food.

[1] Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Foodstuffs and Forest Policies’ website
[2] Decision no. 20125 issued by the III Criminal Section on 12 March, 2009.
[3] Decision no 6234 issued by the Supreme Court, III Section, on 13 March 2009.