According to the French Agriculture Ministry, a PGI or Protected Geographic Indication "indicates agricultural products and food products whose characteristics are strongly linked to a geographical zone, where at least their production, processing or preparation takes place".
It is a European quality label which is useful in certain cases to avoid counterfeiting. It does not guarantee the origin of the raw materials used, as the producer may only be required to install his processing facility there. Thus, the final product is often only processed in the geographical zone delimited by the PGI.
According to the same source, the AOP or Protected Designation of Origin (European quality label which replaces the AOC -Registered designation of origin) "indicates a product from a set region or place, whose characteristics are essentially due to this geographical area. The product comes from a combination of production, local land and know-how".
It is a label which guarantees the origin of traditional food products, from a local region. It deals with the quality, characteristics of the product, its region of origin and the producer's know-how.
There is a great deal of confusion between the two certification systems, and it is difficult for consumers to see the difference between an AOP and PGI. They are, however, sensitive to the symbolism attached to certain area descriptions, which carry an image of quality.
It must be noted that PGI requirements for recent specifications have been somewhat relaxed, so it is now possible to produce Vendée Ham PGI or Corsica cured meats PGI with pork from any European Union country.
If we look at the texts for Guérande salt, it is astonishing to note that the PGI for flower of salt authorises sifting and drying operations. As the product is very fragile and delicate, in order to keep its qualities, it must be subjected to this sort of mechanical treatment as little as possible. We can assume that the aim of this tolerance is to enable industrial packaging, however, those who work the flower of salt traditionally, without mechanisation, will not be able to say so!
An important part of the profession's members believe that the Mes basin, very distinct from the Guérande basin, should not benefit from the designation. The PGI, however, authorises the two to be mixed - but this fact is not indicated on the packaging, and worse, those who do not mix the two are prohibited from highlighting it.
In contrast, the AOP label better protects consumers and producers, as whilst it can accept some industrialisation, it guarantees the origin of raw materials and finished products, and respects the idea of local products and land.
In 1992, the salt workers associated in TRAD Y SEL supported an AOC application at INAO (lien vers lexique) and the Ministry of Agriculture, unfortunately without success. We believe that it is legitimate to talk about the AOP label (which replaces the AOC label on a European level), rather than PGI as we have all the necessary elements for this more restrictive label.
It must be noted that these designations are obligations of means, and not of result. Even if all the elements are present to produce a quality product, a poor producer could sell a mediocre product whilst benefiting from the designation.
Despite the superior benefits that the AOP would have brought, the PGI (protected geographic indication) "Sel de Guérande" (Guérande salt) was obtained in spring 2012. The arrival of a PGI for Guérande salt has, however, major consequences for the small independent producers. Once applied, it requires all producers in the zone to certify their production sites, or risk being de-listed from the French food distribution circuits. This has compromised numerous traditional producers, for whom compliance and the cost of controls and other memberships would be excessive compared to the expected benefits for their small sites. More than 80 of them formally opposed the PGI, denouncing the problems in the specifications, flaws in the ODG (management organisation for the designation) (lien vers lexique), and a relationship of judge and judged on behalf of the Cooperative. All they obtained was 5 years to pay and comply.
The forerunners of these so-called European "quality" labels were designed two centuries ago to protect the diversity of our wines and cheeses, and they were able to maintain the traditions and know how.
These new European quality labels, which now apply to all agricultural products, should defend the specific characteristics of the "terroir" and the men who work there, and not lead to the disappearance of small producers. However, these quality labels are increasingly in the hands of large organisations, which want to keep well-know designations, by getting rid of the competition.