There have been attempts in the past to apply intellectual property protection to specific foods and drinks. Champagne sparkling wine is one of the more well-known examples of this and its application has resulted in problems
in the past. Not terribly long ago, Lebanon took permission culture to the extreme and claimed they owned food copyrights
(which don't exist) on ethnic foods like falafel and hummus, going so far as to plan to sue Israel
for selling those same kinds of foods. This seeking to lock up widely known terms is quite depressing, since it's so often only about profiting by way of removing competitors. So depressing, in fact, that it makes me want to have a piece of chocolate to help me feel better.
But if it's Belgian style chocolate I'm looking for, my options may become limited if Belgian chocolate makers get their way. Their industry federation is seeking to have the EU protect the word Belgian, their flag, and their packaging from horrible, awful, foreign competitors
, using a lesser-known form of IP, geographical indication
They want the term "Belgian chocolate" to be their exclusive preserve and also want to crack down on foreign rivals dressing up their products as "Belgian style" or of a "Belgian recipe".
Geographical indication is something of a European thing, mostly, and one which the United States has actually pushed back on. One of the conditions a term must meet in order to be granted a GI is that it cannot be in common use already. Given that this entire story is all coming about as a result of foreign companies producing Belgian chocolate to meet high demand throughout the world seems to negate the entire endeavor on its face. Even more hilarious are the comments coming from these Belgian chocolate producers, who claim this is some matter of principal rather than profit.
"What makes us sad is that very often the copies are not up to the standard of the originals," Jos Linkens, chief executive of Neuhaus, told Reuters in an interview. "If top chocolatiers around the world copied us, perhaps we would be happy. We don't want the image of quality to suffer."
Uh huh. First off, that simply isn't a believable statement, given how much of the Belgian chocolate business growth has occurred in markets like Asia, where suddenly there are more competitors popping up to meet rising demand. This seems like a clear attempt to limit that competition. Secondly, if the quality of the so-called imposters aren't up to snuff, then your chocolate should win out anyway. Thirdly, if this idea that one had to protect certain styles or kinds of food on the basis of their reputation, the entire nation of Italy should have fire-bombed every Pizza Hut in existence long ago. They haven't, because the truth is that if you want good pizza, you go to the people who know what they're doing.
And if you want Belgian chocolate, you go to whoever makes it the best.