No ordinary island. No ordinary cheese. Guarding the stormy western entrance to Bass Strait is a lonely, rugged island. This isolated place is cut off from the rest of the world by jagged reefs, raging seas and howling Roaring Forties winds. With mineral rich soils, cool annual temperatures, abundant rainfall and a consistent salt spray thanks to the constant westerly winds, the environment contributes to quality milk production which helps us create some of the finest cheeses on earth.
Yet, like many of Australia’s rural regions, King Island is struggling. Its beef and dairy farmers will say to you that they are not receiving enough of the premium that consumers are paying for their products in supermarkets. They are on the bottom of value chains and lack the bargaining power to improve their position. Many, amongst the small population of 1500 or so, think that the Island does not have a viable future. They are not alone. The Tasmanian government sees a looming problem. All over Australia there are regional communities which are experiencing a creeping pessimism about their future.
Would a system of geographical indications (GIs) make any difference to farmers and regional communities in Australia?
This was the question that the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, a statutory authority established by the Australian Government to work on issues related to rural development, asked researchers Professor Peter Drahos, Professor William van Caenegem and Dr Jen Cleary to investigate. Their research presented at the European Policy for Intellectual Property (EPIP 2015) conference in Glasgow suggests that while it is late in day Australia should at least consider the GI option.
Australia has a GI system for wine enacted in 1993, but not for food products. The policy question of whether Australia should introduce a GI system for food products has usually been approached with the belief that most of the benefit of any globally increased protection for GIs would accrue to a small number of European countries. This study was the first to look at whether GIs would produce regional benefits for Australian farming communities.
The researchers conducted a series of case studies across farming sectors (for example, tropical fruits, fish and seafood, livestock, dairy, beverages) that ranged from Northern to the Southern Australia.
Amongst the principal findings of the study were that:
- The Australian wine industry has successfully designed and adapted a GI system to its needs;
- Successful Australian wine GIs have brought spillover benefits to regional communities in the form of tourism and economic diversification;
- Regional food producers have experienced deregulation of their industries and find themselves in a world where they are much more affected by private regulatory initiatives in which retail actors in the supply chain set standards. Within this distribution structure many Australian farmers have struggled to communicate the distinctive qualities of their products to consumers; and
- Despite the corporate dominance of value chains in Australian food production, the availability of flexible, low-cost GI registration could benefit some local communities.
Author Peter Drahos will be presenting the findings of the study at the European Policy for Intellectual Property (EPIP) Conference, University of Glasgow, 2-3 September 2015. For more information visit: http://www.epip2015.org/
Peter Drahos is a professor at the Regulatory Institutions Network, Australian National University and holds a Chair in Intellectual Property, Queen Mary, University of London.
The study is published as William van Caenegem, Peter Drahos, Jen Cleary, Provenance of Australian Food Products: is there a place for Geographical Indications? Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Australia Government; Canberra, Australia, 2015, available at https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/items/15-060.
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