Italy: Piracy and counterfeit: the agri-food sector


Piracy and counterfeit: the agri-food sector

When I had the honour of hosting Consulegis meetings (Florence in October 2012; Rome in February 2014), I paid a lot of attention to choosing typical Italian food products, so in the latest European meeting in Rome a buffet was served in my office with different local products coming from cities where my law firm is based (Rome, Milan, Florence). Furthermore, three tastings (Chianti wine, Pasta and Olive oil) were arranged with experts. The Made in Italy brand is associated with high quality in the agri-food sector. It means not only quality, goodness and simplicity, but also style, taste and culture. It is for this reason that “Italian sounding” is a very widespread and insidious imitation. This fraudulent phenomenon tries to “dress” a fake product with a mix of Italian names, logos, images and slogans which clearly belong to my country.

In order to protect the uniqueness of certain foodstuff, the European Union has launched a specific legislation: PDO and PGI (for wines, DOC, DOCG and IGT) all referring to control and guarantee of denomination and origin.
The phenomenon of “Italian sounding” appears to be alarming: 97% of the Italian sounding pasta sauces sold in the North American market are actually mere imitations; 94 % of Italian sounding olive oil or vinegar is fake, as well as 76% of Italian sounding canned tomatoes.

In some cases, the phenomenon is a true clone of the name, exploiting the lack of legislation in the countries of final distribution: the “parmesan” label has spread almost everywhere abroad instead of “Parmigiano Reggiano.” Following the same trend, “Pecorino Romano” is made from cow milk instead of sheep. Participants to the Rome European meeting rest assured you had the true Made in Italy and not the Italian sounding version!

As part of the food industry supply chain, in Italy “consortiums” were set up (e.g. Consorzio Vino Chianti, that was present both in the Florence and Rome meetings) to check quality and they are particularly efficient in their tasks. The consortium, in fact, was equipped with disciplinary and protocols production, which all members have to comply with. Furthermore, Regulation no. 491/2009/CE extended the European food legislation to alcohol (wine).

Focusing on the Chianti wine, the designation of origin refers to approximately 15,500 acres of vineyards, for a production of 800,000 hectolitres of wine. Outside of the European Union, the Consortium repeatedly warned about the problem stemming from “Italian sounding” products. In many countries it is, in fact, formally lawful to package alleged wine in cartons labelled "Chianti". Furthermore, in other countries, unfair distributors sell powder kits, diluted in water, presenting it even as ..."Chianti!"

The solution to this problem, affecting both the health of consumers and fair competition should be the creation of more binding bilateral state agreements. Moreover, due to the fact that over 60% of “Chianti” wine national production is sent abroad, the alternative to bilateral protection is the registration of the trademark directly abroad, wherever possible.