May 22, 2003

Parma-Style Ham

I can understand that one might want to decide that truth-in-labeling requires that prosciutto di Parma be cured near Parma, that champagne be fermented in Champagne, et cetera--that if you want to cure prosciutto outside of Parma, call it Parma-style ham.

But slicing? By what weird train of thought is slicing a key part of the production process?

Economist.com: ..."HAM-FISTED". That was the reaction of the British supermarket chain, Asda, on learning that it had lost its court battle to slice and package prosciutto di Parma anywhere outside the Italian region which gives the world-famous delicacy its name. The ruling from the European Court of Justice was a victory for the 200 or so producers of Parma ham. They had launched their legal action against Asda in 1997 and an initial opinion from the court?s advocate-general last year had found in favour of the retailer; so the final verdict came as a welcome surprise for the Italians. Their victory, though, will do nothing to convince the rest of the world that the European Union is serious about freeing trade and becoming more competitive.

The case hinged on the court's interpretation of geographical indications--EU-protected trademarks that recognise the importance of products closely associated with a particular place, whether it be Parma ham, French champagne, Spanish sherry or Stilton cheese from Britain. The Parma producers argued that slicing the ham was an important process that had to be done locally. Ultimately, the court agreed.

Asda has been quick to point out one of the absurdities of the ruling. The supermarket chain will still be allowed to slice Parma ham outside Italy, provided that it is done in-store, at the delicatessen counter, rather than in a factory...

Posted by DeLong at May 22, 2003 11:52 AM | TrackBack

Comments

Well, that last para did cut the legs out from under my point, which was that remote slicing a fine cured meat is idiotic. But that doesn't seem to be the argument....

I know that these stories are often played up without full background, as a "see what regulation [inevitably] leads to?" tactic, but boy, the disappearance of common sense can be maddening.

Of course, I get my prosciutto from Parma Sausage, in Pittsburgh's Strip District, where it's cured in the building - the farthest that ham travels is back to my house.

Posted by: JRoth on May 22, 2003 12:26 PM

In fact, according to an article in the Washington Post, the EU regulations do not even permit labeling such as "Parma Style", "American Parma" or "Parma Type". I can't imagine what sort of headache this is going to be for the marketing people at the Krafts of the world if these policies get adopted by the WTO as the Post article indicates is part of the EU agenda for Cancun meetings in September.

Posted by: Pablo on May 22, 2003 01:00 PM

I don't see a conflict here. You don't want cola producers coopting the "Pepsi" brand name any more than you would want the coopting of a 'regional' brand.

I always found it disturbing that American tobacconists had the gall to sell cigars named "Montecristo," "Punch," and worst of all "Cohiba." (Same labels and packaging.) When dollar stores in Havanna sell Pepsi it really is Pepsi - not some rip-off by American expats in the Dominican Republic...

Posted by: Saam Barrager on May 22, 2003 01:35 PM

I don't see a conflict here. You don't want cola producers coopting the "Pepsi" brand name any more than you would want the coopting of a 'regional' brand.

I always found it disturbing that American tobacconists had the gall to sell cigars named "Montecristo," "Punch," and worst of all "Cohiba." (Same labels and packaging.) When dollar stores in Havanna sell Pepsi it really is Pepsi - not some rip-off by American expats in the Dominican Republic...

Posted by: Saam Barrager on May 22, 2003 01:40 PM

Jamon serrano is much tastier anway..

Posted by: Atrios on May 22, 2003 02:03 PM

Regulations are often messy stuff, and strange compromises are hardly unusual. If regional marks are to be recognised - and in Europe it would be politically difficult to regulate food uniformily and allow free trade if some of the established regional marks weren't protected - then you have to define just what it means for something to be processed in a particular region. Slicing isn't any more inhernetly ridiculous than moulding, which is certainly a part of plenty of protected food processes.

I don't see why anyone should side with the supermarkets on this. They can make any kind of ham they want anywhere they like, they just can't call it "Parma." If it's ham of equal quality, then there isn't any law preventing them from competing with Parma's regional producers. Unless, of course, consumers are so irrational that the name itself has some value to them, in which case why should the producers in Parma let some British supermarket take advantage of their reputation by duplicating their name?

Posted by: Scott Martens on May 22, 2003 03:03 PM

"some British supermarket"...

as an aside, Asda is now owned by Wal-Mart.

Posted by: Tom Slee on May 22, 2003 03:30 PM

I'm with Scott Martens.

There's often a tradeoff where simple rules don't get every particular case right. Easier to just say "no processing parma ham outside parma," even if processing ends up including slicing, than to draw up a 10-page list of exactly which activities do and don't constitute processing. (And if the Eurocrats had taken that approach, you can bet the Economist would be make fun of them for that too.)

My corner coffee shop can't toast my bagel because they don't have license for a kitchen. Ridiculous isn't it?--can't even have a toaster on the counter for us customers. But obviously there is a stong social interest in regulating commercial food preparation. And it would be much more cumbersome to draw up a detailed list of what activities qualify than to just say, "no cooking" means no cooking, period.

As a final note, I'm sure those on the Parma side of the debate would be more flexible if they didn't suspect that the goal of the Economist side isn't to rationalize rules about denominations of origin but eliminate them entirely.

Posted by: jw mason on May 22, 2003 03:56 PM

Slicing? Well yeah.

A few years ago I was bidding against NCR/Unisys to computerise the Canadian Aviation Safety Board, and it was freely told around Ottawa that my bid was the best of the bunch.

Unisys got the job -- and their bid was something like $6 million where mine was a million and a half.

One serious difference: I was going to use American computers, but theirs were Canadian. "Canadian computers?" I asked.

"Well yeah, they're Olivetti."

It turned out that under Canadian law the act of putting a Made In Canada label on a computer made in Italy constituted "manufacturing," so these Italian computers were really Canadian manufactured products.

Nice slice.

-dlj.

Posted by: David Lloyd-Jones on May 22, 2003 08:16 PM

The issue in question was not so much the slicing but the whole process of industrial packaging. The Parma Ham consortium in effect requested that, in order to protect the quality and integrity of their product (therefore their brand), only they should be in control of industial slicing and packaging the ham.
I think the Economist rationale is, in this case, ham fisted. Last week they run a survey arguing about the ill effects of counterfeiting goods and brands, what is this debate if not a protection of a brand? Often the Economist (I magazine I adore) take "principled" stands that are a bit at odd with each other, this is one such case.

Posted by: Mooraq on May 23, 2003 01:13 AM

I heard an interview with a parma ham spokesperson on the BBC. He said the issue was that if you go to a store, and you see slices of meat in a sealed package, you don't really know if that meat originated in parma or not. There is no similar counterfeit risk from slicing in the store because the deli counter has the huge parma ham, with their identifying crown on it (I think he called it a "crown") that the customer can see. That's why they thought this was important and brought suit.

Protecting a brand doesn't seem very anti-trade to me.

Posted by: pj on May 23, 2003 05:59 AM

The last comment help directly explain the slicing thing, as some of the others fill in the general "you gotta draw a line somewhere" argument.

My confusion is this: is the word "Parma" being regulated, or "prosciutto"? If you can't use either, then it actually becomes impossible to describe this product at all, which I would argue is absurd. "Sparkling wine" may hint at Champaigne, but "cured ham" doesn't indicate prosciutto-style meat in any way.

But of course, whoever brought up Kraft has identified the real villain - in the common sense world where these regulations wouldn't exist, multiunationals wouldn't concoct chemical substitutes for regional specialties and attempt to pass them off as the real deal (Did You Know: there is no US regulation to guarantee that "naturally brewed soy sauce" is any of the above? Caveat Emptor, indeed).

Posted by: JRoth on May 23, 2003 03:08 PM

Parma. Prosciutto is a common word, so it cannot be restricted as long as the meaning is correct. However any derivate of Parma is covered if I understand the situation. So you can't sell "parmesan prosciutto", nor "prosciutto la mode parmesane".

"Cava", a sparkling wine made like Champagne, is a denomination that was created to solve this problem in Spain. You may know of Freixenet.

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on May 24, 2003 12:58 AM

This comment has nothing to do with economics or prosciutto ham (sliced or whole). It does, however, have everything to do with the torment that elementary students are capable of inflicting on their peers. And apologies - especially apologies...

I've been thinking of contacting Saam Barrager for a very long time and hope that he will see this message. Do you remember me, Saam? I believe we attended Stephenson Elementary in Portland together in the '80s. And if we did, I'd like to apologize for my comments, my actions, my giggly little-girl-ness. It was only my own insecurity that led me to behave the way I did, and I am sorry for that.

Take care,
Erin
greener@animail.net

Posted by: Erin Slevin on May 31, 2003 02:13 PM

This comment has nothing to do with economics or prosciutto ham (sliced or whole). It does, however, have everything to do with the torment that elementary students are capable of inflicting on their peers. And apologies - especially apologies...

I've been thinking of contacting Saam Barrager for a very long time and hope that he will see this message. Do you remember me, Saam? I believe we attended Stephenson Elementary in Portland together in the '80s. And if we did, I'd like to apologize for my comments, my actions, my giggly little-girl-ness. It was only my own insecurity that led me to behave the way I did, and I am sorry for that.

Take care,
Erin
greener@animail.net

Posted by: Erin Slevin on May 31, 2003 02:14 PM
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