Demystifying the interlink between GI tags and Food Products
Most often than not, we pop champagnes during parties and other events. But have you ever pondered why exactly is the drink named as “champagne” while it is also the name of a wine region in France? This is where “Geographical indications” come into picture. In a general sense, a Geographical Indication can be defined as a sign used on products that possess qualities or reputations that are due to that region . Additionally, the attributes of that particular product should be related to the various factors concerning the region from which it originates. For example, the alcoholic beverage called Champagne got its name because it was produced using specific grapes from an area called the Champagne region in France.
GI tags carry a lot of relevance as well as positive implications in today’s world. To start with, Geographical Indications can facilitate trade in numerous ways. Granting a particular food item with a GI tag can boost that product’s goodwill and reputation. This, in turn could enhance the economic conditions of the people who are involved in preparing that particular food item while also improving the regional economic development from where the food item originates .
Since food items that are given a GI tag also carries some amount of reputation to their name, it is unlawful for any other entity to prepare the same food item and sell it since this could severely damage the reputation of that food item.
The aforementioned economic development not only helps the regional areas that the food item is concerned with, but it also helps the makers behind it to expand their trade to a multinational level which could greatly benefit them. Legally protecting a food item using GI tags can also protect the livelihood of the employees who are involved in the making process of such food items and it can also stimulate employment opportunities. Last, but not least, GI tags are greatly helpful when it comes to the promotion of tourism of a particular regional area. Often, a food item that has a GI tag is projected to the general public as a part of their cultural heritage and regional identity to promote tourism through advertisements and other forms of media. For instance, A tour of the tea estates at Darjeeling was made inclusive in several tour packages after the Darjeeling tea received a GI tag in 2004, being the first ever product to receive a GI tag in India.
Some famous food items to receive a GI tag in India are-
- Bikaneri Bhujia: Bikaneri Bhujia is a famous Rajasthani tea-time snack prepared with moth flour and besan along with spices. The Bikaneri bhujia industry gives employment to over 2.5 Million people. Bikaneri bhujia struggled with fakes and counterfeits for a very long time. Moreover, several food corporations also started selling bhujia which greatly affected the reputation of the original Bikaneri bhujia. Thus, Bikaneri bhujia was granted a GI tag in 2010 so that no one other than authorized users could use the product name.
- Dharwad Peda: Dharwad Peda is a sweet that is made using buffalo milk that is derived specifically from the buffaloes raised in the Dharwad region by the Gawali community. The Dharwad peda has a rich history of over 175 years. The original recipe of the Dharwad peda is a secret that is passed down in the Thakur family from one generation to the next. Such unique characteristics of this sweet was the reason why it was granted a GI tag in the year 2007.
- Hyderabadi Haleem: Hyderabadi Haleem is a popular haleem preparation that has originated from the city of Hyderabad. It is composed of meat, lentils and wheat which is slow cooked and stirred. It is consumed during the fasting month prior to Eid. Hyderabadi Haleem was granted a GI tag in 2010 due to the cultural significance that it carries and due to its unique recipe.
- Tirupati Laddu: Tirupati Laddu is a form of “Prasad” (sweets distributed in places of worship) that is composed of dried fruits and nuts. Several business owners sold laddus with the “Tirupati laddu” tag, thus making profits out of it in spite of the products not having any characteristics of the original Tirupati Laddu. In order to curb this, the Tirupati laddu was granted a GI tag in 2014.
Currently, in India, about 365 products have received a GI tag. Some of the recent food items that received a GI tag in 2020 are-
- Kashmiri Saffron: Kashmir is known for its saffron and it is a prominent ingredient used in various Indian delicacies. The climate that is specific to Kashmir has facilitated the growth of saffron which is known for its rich aroma and texture. Although saffron is grown in various parts of the world, certain special characteristics such as the taste and texture that is specific to Kashmiri saffron has made it the most expensive variant in the world, thus it has been granted a GI tag .
- Manipuri black rice: Manipuri black rice is yet another food item that received a GI tag earlier this year. Certain special attributes of this variant of rice includes its black color, its extremely high nutritional value and its rich aroma and taste. Moreover, this variant of rice originated, and is prominently cultivated in Manipur.
- Kovilpatti Kadalai Mittai: Kovilpatti Kadalai Mittai is a type of peanut candy that is manufactured in the Thoothukudi district. It is made by topping peanuts with glistening sugar syrup and by topping it with wisps of coconut shavings. This type of Kadalai Mittai is said to have a long shelf life which was a unique characteristic. Another unique feature of this food item is that all the ingredients involved are purely natural. In fact, the water that is used is from the Thamirabarani river which is a natural taste enhancer .
- Kaji Nemu (Assam): Kaji Nemu is a lemon variant that is cultivated in various regions of Assam. It recently received a GI tag due to its unique aroma and because of its distinct nature that even after ripening, it does not fall from the tree for a long period of time. Additionally, its flavour is also quite different from other variants of lemon .
The registration of GI tags also comes with its own set of legal minefields. Most often than not, the registration process can be flawed in many ways and is granted without proper scrutinization and research about the application. For instance, ‘Rosogolla’ tag itself, which was granted to the West Bengal State Food Processing and Horticulture Development Corporation Limited (WSFPHDCL), which is neither involved in the manufacture and marketing of the product, nor did it represent the community which made it . Additionally, unfair business practices could also severely sabotage the reputation of certain food items that have GI tags. Imitations and counterfeits of various food items are sold as the “original” food item on various online platforms while claiming to have followed the traditional recipe itself. The regulation of fake food items that have been granted GI tags on various platforms is yet another hurdle that Indian laws must be prepped up for.
The author would like to conclusively opine that in a country like India, where cultural diversity is at its peak, GI tags are a great way to promote economic development, employment and tourism.
However, we live in a wired world and technology is developing now more than ever. This has led to the sale of unregulated, fake food items that have GI tags which would severely harm the reputation of the original food item that has been granted the GI tag. This also often outweighs the benefits that a GI tag comes with. Hence, the author would like to suggest that there must be extensive processes involved before manufacturing and marketing a certain food item such as quality assurance, brand creation and other marketing strategies. This could eliminate the possibility of the sale of fakes in various platforms. In a country like India, it is imperative that we protect our cultural diversity in food for our generations to come and this is appreciably possible if we use the provision of GI tags with necessary barriers and measures.
 About IP-Geographical Indications, World Intellectual Property Organization, Available at: https://www.wipo.int/geo_indications/en/#:~:text=A%20geographical%20indication%20(GI)%20is,originating%20in%20a%20given%20place
 Geographical Indications-Overview, Importance and benefits, KIPG, Available at: https://www.wipo.int/geo_indications/en/#:~:text=A%20geographical%20indication%20(GI)%20is,originating%20in%20a%20given%20place
 Did you know these 5 Indian foods that got GI tags? Times of India, 6 August 2020, Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/food-news/did-you-know-these-5-indian-foods-got-gi-tags/photostory/77354553.cms
 Kovilpatti Kadalai Mittai gets GI tag by Sangeetha Kandavel, The Hindu, 30 April 2020, Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/kovilpatti-kadalai-mittai-gets-gi-tag/article31470935.ece
 Kaji Nemu got GI tag in Assam, AGRI ICAR JRF, 10 March 2020, Available at: https://agriicarjrf.com/2020/03/kaji-nemu-lemon-got-gi-tag-in-assam/
 Commercialization of GI tags by States in India by SS Rana and Co, Lexology, 15 December 2018, Available at: https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=9628929a-da22-449d-96d9-6e2e8c88cb98
Information on food GI tags: GI Tag- Intellectual Property India, Available at http://www.ipindia.nic.in/registered-gls.htm