In recent years a number of voluntary private certification programmes have arisen to highlight specific characteristics of foods that are not directly related to their physical, chemical or biological properties. Instead, these programmes focus on cultural or geographical features. This chapter introduces two such schemes: geographic indications and halal.
A geographical indication (GI) is a private voluntary standard that has been registered by a producers' group or a local government authority through the national administration in charge of intellectual property. GIs are a seal of quality which helps to promote know-how, tradition, diversity and quality for raw produce and processed foods. GIs differentiate the product signalling distinctive specific quality characteristics that are essentially attributable to its origin, as the product comes from a determined geographic area. Generally these characteristics are already recognized to some extent by consumers at local, national or even international level. GIs confer legal protection of the geographically related product name and prevent the unauthorized use of the geographical indication on labels of products from other regions. It is thus seen as an appropriate marketing tool for regional and international trade of characteristic local products.
Examples of already existing Asian GIs include Binh Thuan Dragon Fruit and Phu Quoc Fish Sauce from Viet Nam, Doi Tung Coffee from Thailand, and Longjing Tea from China. Many Asian countries have agricultural and food products which could benefit from GI protection and promotion, for example Darjeeling Tea from India or Bali Coffee from Indonesia.
To register a new GI, producers must submit an application to the administration in charge of intellectual property in their country. The application must state a geographically linked name for the product, a name that must already be in common use or with a historical reference. Producers must also demonstrate the causal relation between the product characteristics and the geographic location of production or the traditional knowledge in the area of production. On this basis, they define a code of practice for the production and transformation processes, which they commit to comply with. This is meant to characterize the unique specificity of the product which will allow local producers to associate their product with the geographical name. Finally, a third party must inspect and certify the quality of the production and transformation processes on behalf of the government, which is the final guarantor of the quality of the product. Once registered, producers and manufacturers who are located in the geographic area and who meet the code of practice can use the GI label created by the originator of the product and protected by the government.
More information on geographical indications in an Asian context
Halal is an Arabic word meaning lawful. It refers to things or actions permitted by Islamic law. When associated to food, it is usually used to describe something that a Muslim is permitted to eat, drink or use. The opposite of halal is haram, which is Arabic for unlawful or prohibited. For producers and traders, this implies making sure that all the inputs, tools, machinery and labour used in the production, processing, storage and distribution chains of the products have been kept separated from anything that is considered haram. The process covers food as well as non-food products, such as some medicines and cosmetics. Halal certification is becoming increasingly important for agrifood marketing in Asia as the value of world halal food trade is estimated at US$150 billion. For many practicing Muslims travelling abroad or living in countries dependent on food imports, the halal logo is becoming a trusted quality sign for purchasing agrifood products that are certified as lawful under Islamic law. There is anecdotal evidence of markedly increased sales for distribution outlets and restaurants that are certified halal. Thus, the halal logo can be envisaged by stakeholders in agrifood chains as a marketing tool to reach the Muslim consumer.
Halal requirements differ slightly from country to country, but Malaysian halal certification is increasingly becoming an international benchmark for good Islamic practices. "Halal certificates" are granted by approved Islamic centres to facilities that are inspected, registered, and supervised by certified inspectors. Certification fees are negotiated with the certifying body, usually an approved Islamic centre, which has a registered logo for product labels. This certification process verifies that the food product is Halal, fit for Muslim consumers, and originates from certified production and processing premises. Lack of collaboration amongst the world's Halal-certification authorities and concerns about enforcement are challenges currently faced by participants in this market.
More information on Halal certification requirements