EU outrage at Swiss absinthe appellation

19th September, 2012 by Becky Paskin

A group of European absinthe producers have appealed against a government decision in Switzerland to register the spirit as a Swiss product.

Pernod Absinthe Fountain

Pernod Absinthe Fountain

In August the Swiss Federal Department for Agriculture (OFAG) ruled to award absinthes produced in the Val-de-Travers region a protected geographical indication (GI).

It meant that an absinthe produced by any other country would not be allowed for sale within Switzerland, nor any other country recognising the Swiss GI.

The decision however has caused a storm with the French Federation of Spirits, the European Spirits Organisation (CEPS) and a group of producers from within the EU.

Together they have appealed the decision, claiming the GI registration is ‘unfounded’.

“Absinthe is widely recognised as being founded in Switzerland, but every spirit originated somewhere,” said Paul Skehan, director general at CEPS. “In that case could you call gin British? There are certain products that stand out and that it makes a lot of sense, like for Scotch, but in the case of absinth, gin and vodka it just doesn’t work.”

The group is appealing to the OFAG to change the GI status to absinthe from the Val-de-Travers region instead.

“We don’t have a big problem with that, but not just the word absinth itself that’s just a generic at this stage.”

The move comes as the EU Commission is close to defining a generic term for absinthe, which would outline minimum and maximum alcohol levels as well as the amount of thujone it can include.

If the appeal falls through, the group will have just one last shot at fighting against the GI indication for absinthe. If they fail a second time, it could have disastrous consequences for producers in the EU.

Skehan adds that the worst case scenario is if in the meantime the Swiss government forms an agreement with the European Commission to recognise each others’ appellations.

“That could cause all sorts of difficulties,” he said. “There are all sorts of complications potentially in the future. At the moment there are none, in the sense we are contesting it and that puts on hold the registration process for a year or two.”

However he added that the likelihood of the Swiss GI registration succeeding was slim. “I can’t imagine that they could win it. I don’t see the logic of absinthe as a native Swiss product and particularly to that native region – we don’t think it stacks up.”

To read more on the history of absinthe, click here.

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