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For me, food is a personal and political priority. It has never been higher up the agenda, with recent events serving as a timely reminder of the importance of domestic food production. In June, we published our Food Strategy, which set out the importance of maintaining and boosting our food security. It also set out a new ambition for 50% of government expenditure on food procurement to be on a combination of food produced locally and certified to higher production standards. As a nation, we must consume more of our local produce.
The Food Strategy also reinforced the importance of food and drink manufacturers to communities across the UK. The sector itself is larger than the aerospace and automotive industries combined. With a food manufacturer in every constituency in this country, they provide employment opportunities and apprenticeships, they invest in research and innovation, and they inspire a real sense of pride and identity in local areas. Whether it’s the Cornish Pasty, Melton Mowbray Pork Pie, Scotch Whisky or Welsh Lamb, the UK is home to some fantastic produce that contributes millions of pounds to local economies ever year. It is right that we protect their special quality, provenance, and heritage.
Protecting food names isn’t a new concept. The geographical indication system of recognising the importance of iconic names to the economy, environment and traditions of places is linked to earlier systems which protected products such as Champagne. Early UK adopters of the system included Stilton Cheese and Welsh Lamb.
Outside the European Union, we have designed UK GI schemes that will continue protections that guarantee a product’s characteristics or reputation, authenticity, and origin. We will also be able to recognise new products under our schemes, and I would urge food and drink producers to think carefully about signing up to one of our schemes which protect a diverse range of products including food, agricultural products, beer, cider, wine, and spirit drinks.
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking at the UK GI conference where I was able to announce that we will be designating Sussex wine as a GI, encompassing sparkling and still wines from Sussex. The move, which has since been designated, will help wine producers in Sussex grow their reputation at home and abroad, at a time when the UK’s reputation for high-quality wine is ever-growing. In the South Downs National Park alone, there has been a 90% increase since 2016. Sussex is also home to Plumpton College, where the next generation of UK wine growers are being trained. The designation will be a huge boost to jobs, skills and the local economy.
The first new product to achieve UK GI status became the seventeenth member of the Welsh GI family of products; Gower Salt Marsh Lamb became a UK GI last summer, guaranteeing that it comes from lambs which were born and reared on the North Gower coastline in Wales.
Producers of products designated as UK GIs will benefit from an increased profile that recognitions within the family of UK GIs brings. By sharing a common GI identity with high profile products such as Scotch Whisky, less well-known products such as Vale of Evesham Asparagus can benefit from government promotion campaigns both in the UK and abroad.
Our manifesto was clear that we want people at home and abroad to be lining up to buy British; our Food Strategy set out measures to boost domestic consumption of local produce, and we have announced new agri-food and drink attaches in priority markets around the world to help boost exports. As well as posts in China, USA, India, Canada and Mexico, the agri-food attachés will be covering growth markets in the Gulf, Africa, South America and the Asia-Pacific region. Existing attachés in China and the UAE have been pivotal in securing access for a greater range of products and driving export growth. This includes some of our existing GIs.
Of course, registration also offers producers the opportunity to promote their status to consumers through retailers here in the UK with a UK GI logo serving as an effective marketing tool. Producers also benefit from protection against misuse of their products’ names; bringing government and local authority enforcement action that is powerful and cost free to producers.
We know that consumers value authenticity and tradition, which are qualities that GI status guarantees. We want to increase awareness of GIs to ensure that they are more widely understood by consumers, to help them differentiate unique products on supermarket shelves. I also want to continue to work with producers and retailers to better support consumer awareness of our GI offer. We have so many incredible products, and I want the GI status to be used by more and more of our iconic food and drink producers. We can and must celebrate and protect more of our excellent local produce, and ensure it is given the recognition that it deserves.