State Governments and Regional Food Industries

In a country where food choices are dominated by national corporations, I can’t tell you how glad I am to see State governments take an interest in promoting and defending products from their area. When I read that Vermont is taking steps to making stricter rules for labeling maple syrup as “Vermont” maple syrup, and the State of Washington is about to create a State Beer commission designed to promote area breweries, I get a smile on my face. Both news stories indicate that some people in government understand that national and regional interstate food companies often don’t have a specific state’s interest at heart.

So they’ve decided to do something about it.

Although some people are sure to disagree, I see the stricter “Vermont” Maple Syrup labeling guidelines as no different than a company’s right to defend it’s copyright on, say, the quality of it’s ice cream or cola. Vermont Maple Syrup is a recognizable product and the state should have a say on how it’s marketed. Prior to January 1st of this year, a syrup company could by syrup from many different locations, including areas in Canada, and still call it Vermont Maple Syrup without documenting any other of their sources on the front of their bottles.

The new law states that:

Maple syrup producers can only put “Vermont” on the front of containers if they identify all other sources of the syrup “clearly and conspicuously” on the front of the container, said Henry Marckres, chief of consumer protection for the state.

To me, this is the same thing as Italy protecting the name “Parmigiano-Regigiano”. Vermont wants to prevent and protect their syrup industry from being diluted from non-Vermont syrup makers, and I’m all for that.

It’s not the quality of the beer that the state of Washington wants to protect, it’s the breweries themselves. Modeled after the Washington Wine Commission, it’s job is to promote microbreweries here in Washington State, to both a national audience and the local.

So what’s so different about this? The commission is tasked to help the smaller microbreweries, rather than the larger ones. Typically, after production and distribution costs, there’s little or no money left for marketing. Getting exposure through the Beer Commission would provide what would be essentially free advertising to these breweries.

The idea of the states protecting and promoting their product is not a new one. Europeans have been doing it over the last century. But outside of the wine industry, it is a rather new phenomenon here in the States. In the past we’ve typically allowed national companies to take the lead in developing and distributing products. This has helped lead to a homogenization of products. With state governments getting involved, perhaps regional foods will once again create a unique and diverse marketplace.

Technorati Tags: Food, Beer Industry, State Government, Vermont Syrup

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