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Lifestyle
 

Does new Bill on food origin benefit consumers here? Not really

Published on Apr 15, 2014 6:51 PM
 
A trolley full of groceries at the NTUC Fairprice outlet in Thomson Plaza. A drool-worthy menu that included Belon oysters, braised Bresse chicken in a red wine from Burgundy, and roast Kobe beef rib, was something that emerged in Parliament on Monday, April 14, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

A drool-worthy menu that included Belon oysters, braised Bresse chicken in a red wine from Burgundy, and roast Kobe beef rib, was something that emerged in Parliament yesterday.

It was read out by Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah, who was talking about a new Bill that would improve protection offered for the labels known as geographical indications (GIs).

A GI, for example, indicates a product's a place of origin, which often also assures quality and the reputation. Often, it can also serve as an indicator that a product has undergone a specific preparation method, usually a traditional one.

Think Parma ham or Champagne - bubbly wine made in France's Champagne region, from specific grapes only, and made in a stipulated way.

Presently, under existing laws, GIs are automatically protected in Singapore under the Geographical Indications Act. This applies to GIs of any member country of the World Trade Organization, under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

Under the new Bill, Singapore will have its own GI registry, and GI owners who register here can request Singapore Customs to seize goods which are suspected of infringing a GI. Before this, GI owners would have had to go against violators on their own.

I think it is great as this new system will improve the certainty that existing products with GIs imported into Singapore are truly legitimate. It will further protect producers and consumers can be sure that they are getting the real deal GIs are registered here, too.

But what other benefit does this register have for consumers here?

None really, other than that diners can probably be sure that when restaurants say they will be serving Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, they are.

Truth be told, I am not sure about how all this can be enforced.

What is stopping a restaurant from serving an Australian parmesan and calling it its Italian equivalent? I doubt most diners, myself included, would be able to tell the difference, especially if it has been mixed into some other ingredient.

The registry merely protects the interests of products that already have GIs. It also reinforces the unique quality centred around these products which may then lead to producers charging an even higher premium for their goods.

All that having a GI registry here does for Singapore is to strengthen its present GI regime, and put it in good stead for its Free-Trade Agreement negotiations with the European Union.

rltan@sph.com.sg

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