Mr. Momchil Nekov, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Bulgaria, submitted three written questions on mountain products to the European Commission (EC) on the 21st December 2015. The aim was to have precisions on the room of manoeuvre of the Member States regarding the implementation of the optional quality term ‘mountain product’ and the creation of added value.
Firstly, he asked about the level of protection and standardisation brought by the EU schemes for optional quality terms in comparison with the ones covering geographical indications. The EC informed that no further changes are planned and that they make a clear difference between schemes for optional quality terms and the ones covering geographical indications in term of scope and objectives.
- Question of MEP Nekov: Is the Commission planning to propose improvements to the rules governing the ‘mountain product’ label to bring them into line with EU standards and guarantee proper legal protection for the products concerned?
- Answer of Phil Hogan: The term “mountain product” falls under the scope of optional quality terms the objective of which is to facilitate communication of the value adding characteristics of agricultural products of mountain origin, and to reduce the risks of consumer confusion as to the products’ provenance. Regulation (EU) No 1151/2012 provides legal protection, notably through its Article 34 which requires Member States to ensure adequate controls and in the event of breach, apply appropriate sanctions. The Commission is not planning to propose changes, taking into account that the scheme for optional quality terms has a different scope and objectives than for example the schemes covering geographical indications.
Mr Nekov then asked precisions about the role of the Member States in the implementation of controls. The EC reminded that it was upon Member States to establish their own system of controls, based on a risk analysis and that there would be no standardisation at EU level.
- Question of MEP Nekov: If the Commission is not planning to propose more detailed rules for the label which are applicable across the EU, can the Member States themselves define the rules governing the checks carried out on products with the ‘mountain product’ label, on the basis of those already laid down in Delegated Regulation (EU) No 665/2014?
- Answer of Phil Hogan: Member States cannot define more detailed requirements for the use of the term “mountain product” than those defined in Regulation (EU) No 1151/2012 and its implementing rules. As regards controls, according to Article 34 of the said Regulation, Member States have to establish their own system of checks, based on a risk analysis.
Euromontana is currently establishing a state-of-the art of the situations in the different countries (an article will soon be available). Following the answer of the European Commission, Euromontana calls again upon Member States to apply adequate controls to avoid fraudulous use of the term “mountain product” in order to protect mountain farmers while avoiding a massiv administrative burden.
Lastly, to the question if the EU would keep track of the products/producers using the term ‘mountain products’, the EC replied by the negative, precising that no database of ‘mountain product’ would be created.
- Question of MEP Nekov: Is the Commission planning to set up a database along the lines of DOOR, E-BACCHUS or E-SPIRIT DRINKS so that consumers and producers can check the details of each ‘mountain product’ registered in this way?
- Answer of Phil Hogan: The scheme for optional quality terms does not provide for a registration process at the EU level. Every operator who is complying with the term “mountain product” has the right to use it. Consequently, the Commission cannot set up a database of products/producers using the term “mountain product” along the lines of DOOR, E-Bacchus or E-Spirit Drinks.
Despite the absence of database organised by the European Commission, Euromontana is compiling examples of the use of the optional quality term and aims at establishing a European mountains supply chains network through the creation of a platform that will aim at exchanging experience, discussing common problems, disseminating information and developing projects between farmers, advisory organisations, universities, businesses, traders and consumers.
The original version of the questions and answers are available here.
-  Regulation (EU) no 1151/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 November 2012 on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs, OJ L 343, 14.12.2012, p. 1
-  Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) no665/2014 of 11 March 2014 supplementing Regulation (EU) No 1151/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council with regard to conditions of use of the optional quality term ‘mountain product’, OJ L 179, 19.6.2014