The Importance of Symbols

The former British Standards Institution’s “Kitemark” – Public Domain

The Significance of Signs 

Symbols surround us to such an extent that we scarcely notice them. From our exit from the EU’s internal market at the beginning of 2021, however, a great many of them will begin to disappear from the items we hold in our hands. 

Graphic of the EU's CE quality control mark

Consider, for example the characters which you may find on all manner of items in your home. They indicate that the goods conform with health, safety, and environmental protection standards for products sold within the European Economic Area (EEA), that is the European Union plus a number of other countries, e.g. Norway. This symbol can also be found on products sold outside the EEA that have been manufactured to EEA standards.

All Change

Since 1 january 2021 British manufacturers are no longer entitled to place this mark on their goods, unless we can tie up a trade agreement with the EU that provides for the recognition that goods produced in the UK are to an equivalent standard. However, even if this be the case—and it is looking less and less likely—it will do nothing for our trade with the rest of the world.

The CE mark is recognized and accepted throughout the world. Without it British goods will have a hard time in the global market.

Nor is this the only sign or symbol which we shall possibly be losing, to our detriment. A similar sign is the e-mark which you will find on most of the packets, jars or bottles in your fridge or in your cupboards. You’ll see it right next to the weight or measure of the contents, and indicates that the measure of the contents is within guaranteed limits. 

Marks of Quality

There are a number of other marks, some of them quite colourful. There are the three discs: PDO, PGI and TSG. The first, Protected Designation of Origin (yellow and red) guarantees that the product has been produced entirely in the named area. Current UK examples are Stilton cheese and Cornish clotted cream.

The next is PGI: Protected Geographical Indication (blue and yellow). This specifies that an item has been produced in a traditional manner, and that part of its production has taken place within the named geographical area. Examples are Melton Mowbray pies, Cornish pasties or Kentish Ale (Shepherd Neame is the sole holder of this designation).

The third mark is TSG, or Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (yellow and blue).  This mark is not tied to any particular geographical area, but aims to provide a system of protection for traditional food products of a specific character. In order to be considered for TSG, a product must demonstrate that the materials and methods used in its production have been consistent for a minimum of thirty years. 

Not All is Lost

Where a product already bears one of the foregoing quality marks, it is permitted to continue to do so. However, there is a range of new UK logos that will replace them on newly registered items. Some, such as Kentish Ale, will henceforth carry both logos. The following are the UK logos which have replaced the EU ones.

When I suggested that they were lacking somewhat in colour and imagination, my interlocutor assured me that they were the best of a disappointing bunch.

And there are yet other marks, such as the green Organic Certification label, a leaf blowing in the wind, formed from the twelve stars of the flag of Europe.

It is intended that a British scheme of regulation and labeling will replace the current Europe-wide schemes, following the completion of the “implementation” period. It remains to be seen how quickly and how widely it will be accepted, especially in the European Union.