❤ It’s chocolate, Jim, but not as we know it ❤

How about giving some delicious Belgian dark chocolate to your beloved for Valentine’s Day ?

Ever since the start of chocolate making in Europe, gifts of chocolate between couples have long been a tradition. Long may it continue!

One of the best places to view chocolate products is the Gare de Midi rail station in Brussels. How did Belgium become so prominent in chocolate manufacture, using produce not even grown in Europe (cocoa beans)? The Swiss are also prominent, but more for milk choclate, whereas Belgian is famous for dark chocolate. Do both these countries have a “protected geographic designation” (PGD) for their chocolate products?

The beneficial ingredients of chocolate are

  • Iron ( so good for red blood cells)
  • Copper (helps form haemoglobin, which carries the oxygen in blood)
  • Magnesium (helps the glands important in bone health)
  • Manganese (for enzymes that break down food)
  • AND it is good for vascular function, so to keep the heart pumping.

The EU pioneered the use of “appellations of origin” since a treaty in Lisbon of 1958, but there have been various conflicts over industry labels, especially from the United States, with manufacturers contesting rights claimed by European producers. This is not just an EU regulation. The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in Geneva hammered out a multi-lateral treaty for the protection of geographic indicators  (GIs) which the EU signed after a positive vote in the EU Parliament in 2019.. It came into force in February 2020.

So how does this  effect UK products, like Whitstable oysters or Cornish pasty? The UK scheme, which will be managed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), will be open to producers from the UK and other countries.

But let’s see how this affects dark chocolate. UK also has a large chocolate industry, but on the whole, the English market seems to prefer the sweeter ingredients, with more non-cocoa fat and more sugar.  EU Directive 2000/36 defines chocolate as having not less than 35% dry cocoa solids, 18% cocoa butter, 14 % dry non-fat cocoa solids, and up to a maxiumum of 5% of other vegetable fats.

Belgian manufacturers came together in CHOPRABISCO, their industry association of some 100 members,  and decreed that to be called “Belgian chocolate”, it must conform to EU Directive 2008/36 and also be refined and moulded in Belgium.  This did not suit a large Belgian company, Godiva, which also manufactures in the USA, so there has been some compromise and such factories are allowed to put “Belgian flavour” or “Belgian tradition “ on the back of the packet. Pralines (filled chocolates) are a Belgian tradition since started in Brussels over 100 years ago when a pharmacist began coating his medicines in chocolate.

“Diabetic Belgian Chocolates” by thinkpublic 

However, none of this regulation is of any use unless an industry is prepared to invest the money to DEFEND the rights to the label in law. The Swiss have always done this with their chocolates (not surprising that the WIPO HQ is in Geneva, as the Swiss understand brand protection). WIPO says that these brand rights have to be defended within national jurisdictions:

The effects of a GI right obtained in a particular jurisdiction are limited to the territory of that jurisdiction. Thus, where a right over a GI is obtained in one jurisdiction, it is protected there but not abroad. In order to obtain protection in a foreign jurisdiction, GI holders must, in principle, seek protection under the relevant national laws prevailing in the jurisdiction in question. However, international agreements can facilitate the acquisition of GI rights abroad. In particular, many bilateral and regional trade agreements have incorporated lists of GIs that are to be protected in the relevant parties to the agreement. The listed GIs may relate to existing or subsequent registrations of GI rights, but protection may also emanate from the trade agreements themselves.

Presumably the fact that the EU is now signed up to the multi-lateral treaty means that all the GIs there can be litigated, if need be, in the European Court of Justice, the same institution despised by the UK right-wing Press. The UK did not seem very interested in GIs as it did not respond to the WIPO questionnaire about them, but the DEFRA trademarks post-Brexit now show some engagement on this matter. It will be interesting to see if UK negotiators remember to include such GI indicators in future trade talks, in the treaties that will now have no public scrutiny until they are a done-deal.

All very complicated. But I am a shopper that reads the labels, and when Waitrose Belgian chocolate says it is made in Belgium, then I trust its quality, as under EU directive 2008/36