Today's consumers need to know exactly what they are buying. This was not the case, however, when Lord Donoghue spearheaded MAFF's "safeguarding Britain's regional food heritage" campaign in 1999. Then there was little interest in gaining protected status applications from producers and a lack of awareness among consumers.
However, media exposés of companies intentionally misleading consumers by labelling their products as authentic', real' and traditional' when they were not has increased awareness to the extent that consumers are now driving producers to apply for protected status having realised it's for their benefit.
Consumers regard Melton Mowbray pork pies as a premium, regional brand ­ the Rolls Royce of pork pies ­ but can no longer confidently purchase a pork pie labelled as a Melton Mowbray' pie because of the number of products on the market that look and taste nothing like an authentic Melton Mowbray pork pie. Our campaign to obtain protected geographical status for Melton Mowbray pork pies aims to reverse this problem and has been completely consumer driven.
A petition initially set up to gauge local support has been signed by thousands of people from all corners of the globe. MPs, MEPs and senior government ministers have sent messages of support, confirming the importance our application has placed on the issue. We have no intention of stopping other producers making pork pies, but they must be labelled honestly and fairly. What's important is that consumers should know exactly what they are buying. In fact the pork pie industry could benefit from such clarification.
So what's unique about a Melton Mowbray pork pie? Could it be the shape, or the filling, or where the pies are made? The truth is that all three factors are crucial. The pies should be baked with no supporting hoop or tin, thus allowing them to settle during baking to get their characteristic bow-sided shape and pastry texture. The meat should be fresh, natural British pork (not bacon or ham). Finally, the pies should be made in the Melton Mowbray area in accordance with where they were first created. The social, cultural and agriculture heritage of Melton has defined the way the pie looks and taste. It's indigenous to Melton which is why it must be made in Melton.
UK consumers are not alone in this crusade. Throughout Europe consumers support the move for protected status because they recognise the value of protection.
For many years the French, with great pride, have been zealously guarding and protecting their regional gastronomic culture and they are no longer alone. The Appellation Controlée classification of wine, for example, is duplicated in various guises throughout other European countries. When you buy a bottle of Champagne you know exactly where it has come from ­ not California, nor New Zealand, nor Spain ­ but France.
Another example, Stilton Cheese, may only be made in the counties of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire or Derbyshire and nowhere else in the world. Similarly Cornish clotted cream may now only be produced in Cornwall.
In Britain, DEFRA continues to support this European wide move to safeguard food heritage. It's about clarification, protecting consumers and protecting our heritage. In Britain we have a huge number of regional food products all worthy of protected status ­ of which the Melton Mowbray pork pie is just one example.
Being part of Europe does not mean we need to lose our regional identity and heritage, but we must be prepared to protect it or face the consequences of losing it forever.