An IP Right under European law, the Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) seal is one of three geographical marks that the European Commission (EC) can award to products, usually foodstuffs, with links to specific regions.
In each case where a European TSG is agreed, its specifications are enshrined in EC law. The Commission signalled its approval for the Neapolitan TSG in late 2009.
'Member States [have] backed a proposal to register Pizza Napoletana as a TSG under the European Union's quality labelling scheme,' announced the Commission. 'This means that producers who wish to use the EU's TSG label on their pizzas must follow the precise specifications set out in the regulation.' The Commission added that the seal covers 'a traditional agricultural product or foodstuff with at least 25 years [of] proven usage in the EU market' and certifies EU recognition 'for its specific character'.
The Commission pointed out that the TSG 'will not prevent other producers from using the name Pizza Napoletana, even if they do not follow the [approved] specifications'. However, it said, 'producers making pizza to a different recipe would … not be allowed to use the TSG label'. In other words, the seal's exclusivity does not apply to a specific brand, but to products that follow a specific formula.
As defined by the EC paperwork, the pizza's specifications are exacting to say the least. The base must be made from fresh yeast, hard wheat flour, sea salt and water, and must be stretched by hand, not rolled with a rolling pin. Tomato slices placed on the base must be no thicker than 8mm, and the mozzarella on top must be made from buffalo milk. Cow's milk alternatives are unacceptable. In the oven, meanwhile, the pizza must be cooked at approximately 500˚ centigrade for a regular, puffed crust.
Similar geographical indicators (GIs) have been awarded to high-profile products such as feta cheese and Parma ham, but not without controversy. Feta received an EC Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) seal in 2002, as the Commission felt that its specifications, means of production and consumer base were intrinsically tied to Greece. However, this disappointed cheese makers elsewhere, who argued that feta was a generic name like cheddar, rather than a regional signifier. In 2003 an earlier PDO recipient, Parma ham, fought off a stiff challenge from supermarket chain Asda, which had sought to use the Parma label for ham sliced and packed in the UK.
The third EU mark of this kind, the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), has been given to products such as Lübecker marzipan, which must be made according to a recipe created in the German city of Lübeck. While a PDO product must be made entirely in a particular region, a PGI product must be made at least partially in its designated area.
Brigitta Best, director of trademarks at leading IP and legal services company CPA Global, told IP Review Online that a GI 'is a method of quality assurance that allows a producer or region to distinguish its products from others. It also allows the consumer to be reassured that a product is being made according to local customs or habits and their inherent quality standards'.
However, enforcing GIs can only work if countries sign up to them and respect them. In 2009, EU ambassador David Lipman told a conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that he would personally speed up Thailand's application to register an EU GI for Tung Kula Rong-Hai rice, from the Thai plain of the same name. Lipman's pledge was part of a wider EU initiative to enhance mutual cooperation with Asian countries on a range of IP issues, with particular emphasis on GIs.
Another key factor determining GI protection is consumer knowledge. In Best's view, it is 'essential that the average consumer becomes aware of the specifics around a GI, so that they can take decisions on what to buy based on the quality promise behind the related products'.
Perhaps the biggest influence, though, is market strength: the wider a GI product is sold, the more revenue will flow towards the trade group that guards its authenticity. If legal action is required against purveyors of bogus goods, that trade group will be able to afford it. Backed by a market valued at €1.7bn in 2009, the Parma Ham Consortium (Consorzio de Prosciutto di Parma) is well placed to fend off pretenders to its product's throne. But smaller GI concerns will not be so robust.
Italy's Real Neapolitan Pizza Association (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana) will monitor the authenticity drive for its newly TSG-approved product. Vice president Dr Massimo Di Porzio said that the group's immediate goal is to develop 'training and improvement for [specialist pizza chefs] and agreements with farmers and producers', in order to ensure that the seal goes only to products that meet the agreed EC standards.