David Cameron: Stop trying to 'protect' our food!

Updated on 05 April 2011 | 0 Comments

From now on, you'll get a rap on the knuckles from the likes of Dave Cameron if you take the name of the Cumberland sausage in vain. Is this another sign of political correctness gone mad?

Bought any Cumberland Sausages recently? Noticed anything different about them?

Well you should have. Because these sausages are protected now.  That’s right. From now on, you’ll get a rap on the knuckles from the likes of Dave Cameron if you take the name of the Cumberland sausage in vain.


The award of EU “Protected Geographical Indication” (PGI) status means that coiled peppery pork sausages can only be called ‘Cumberland sausages’ if they were actually made in the county of Cumbria.

The exact rules – yes, there are now official Government rules about Cumberland sausages - state: “The sausage must be produced, processed and prepared in Cumbria, have a meat content of at least 80%, include seasoning and be sold in a long coil.”

So, you couldn’t apply the label of ‘Cumberland sausage’ if, say, you made exactly the same sausage from exactly the same ingredients, but in Lancashire.

Is there anything wrong with this?

OK, so we all want a decent banger and I can’t argue with the Cumberland recipe. The question for me is: does the sausage actually gain anything from being made in Cumbria? Am I, the Cumberland-sausage-eater, actually any better off – seeing as it doesn’t taste any different?

Of course, it is obviously great news for Cumberland sausage producers. But it’s bad news for all the other sausage producers who want to make Cumberland sausages. Are they all supposed to up sticks and move to Cumbria? Isn’t this political correctness gone mad?

This debate has added fuel to the furnace of confusion surrounding the EU’s protected status for certain foods. Which foods should be marked out, and which shouldn’t?

Because Cumberland sausages aren’t the only product recently to attain this hallowed status. Oh no. Far from it....

PGI foods

Other foods you may not realise hold PGI status include Parma ham, champagne, sherry and Feta cheese.  All of these foods must be made in the EU regions they originated from or they cannot be sold under their famous monikers.

This is causing a bit of a ruckus at the moment, because every local food producer is trying to get their hands on PGI status.

I don’t blame them – PGI status provides producers with publicity and makes their produce stand out as ‘the real deal’.  

This, of course, means they can charge higher prices, even if the actual quality of the protected product is no different when it is made in another region.

Of course, there are exceptions. Welsh lamb, for example, is a PGI food. This seems fair because the lambs have to be reared in certain conditions, and these conditions (the climate and pastures) are present in Wales. The PGI status does not claim that lamb from elsewhere is not good, just that Welsh lamb has a specific taste.

When you come to finished foods, though, like sausages, I think the same taste and quality can be achieved in butchers and kitchens across the country, as long as the basic ingredients and method are right.

The bets are on

It’s all getting completely out of hand. William Hill has even opened books on what food will get the PGI nod next, with Red Leicester cheese, Lancashire hotpot and Bakewell Pudding and Scottish Wild Salmon all in the running.

Scottish Wild Salmon seems a strong contender. But Lancashire hotpot? My grandmother grew up in Lancashire making its famed hotpot. When she moved to Cheshire, it didn’t taste any different. And she certainly didn’t start calling it a Cheshire hotpot.

Buy the real thing

Stornoway Black Pudding is also hoping to get the status this year. It is made by just a few Scottish producers who say they are keen for the accolade so that customers will know they are buying the real thing, and not a poor imitation.

I’m all for protecting the quality of great foods, but the Stornoway Black Pudding, like the Cumberland sausage, is linked to the region where it is traditionally made, but not dependent on that region. 

Yorkshire puddings and Eccles cakes have been denied PGI, apparently because their names are too generic for them to be considered as the product of one place alone.

How the place names “Yorkshire” and “Eccles” are more generic than “Cumberland” is anyone’s guess, but a pretty impossible argument to defend.

Not all Cornish pasties are worthy of PGI

What’s more, the Cornish pasty has also recently been awarded PGI, a move which has upset other artisan pasty producers. One Devon producer, Chunk of Devon, has pointed out that there are three large pasty factories in Cornwall which mass produce the popular food. These factories can benefit from the PGI mark, even though there are many better quality pasties made elsewhere.

Chunk of Devon even won the prize of the best Cornish Pasty at 2009’s British Pie Awards, but was not allowed to compete the following year.

Other foods of Britain’s 44 that have the PGI status include Stilton, Cornish clotted cream and Melton Mowbray pork pies.

It’s all about the campaign

Why some products are winning the status and others aren’t is becoming increasingly confused. Clearly, the foods with the best publicity campaign behind them are winning every time.

The PGI mark is being devalued

The problem is, the more foods that are named PGI, the less the symbol is worth in itself. It started off as a way to protect and publicise our heritage foods, but I think it’s developed into little more than a grubby scramble for gold stars.

What do you think? 

Also worth your attention:

Lotte Duncan’s potted stilton

The best bangers in Britain

UK’s tastiest regional foods


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