December 12, 2007 / 10:44 AM / in 11 years

Panettone makers want to keep Christmas cake Italian

ROME (Reuters) - Italy already has strict rules governing the origin and quality of its wine, while Parmigiano parmesan cheese can only be made in Parma and regulations on “Italian” olive oil are being tightened.

Now Christmas cake has become the latest product that the government and manufacturers want to protect from foreign imitations.

Italian bakers produce some 117 million panettone and pandoro cakes every Christmas — worth 579 million euros (416 million pounds). By law they must be made according to strict rules, including using only butter and beer yeast.

But those rules do not apply abroad, meaning exported Italian cakes may not be up to scratch, and foreign-made versions may only bear a vague resemblance to the tall, puffy, golden desserts prized by Italians.

“Just think — seven out of 10 panettoni and pandori exported to the United States do not respect the production norms. Seven out of 10 Americans buying an ‘Italian-style’ panettone are getting a fake,” Alberto Bauli, head of the Italian Cake Industry, told a news conference.

Agriculture Minister Paolo De Castro said the government was looking at ways to protect the real Italian cakes from growing competition in Latin America. Officials are examining whether they can take action at the World Trade Organisation.

“We can’t let all these imitators use a name, a brand that gives them a link to territory that isn’t theirs — in a way they are mocking consumers,” De Castro said.

Earlier this year, De Castro said he would push the European Union to accept a plan to make all olive oil sold in Italy carry a label saying where the olives are grown — a move to support Italian farmers who complain that the majority of “Italian” olive oil is made from olives grown elsewhere.

If that is deemed legal by the EU, Italy might try a similar scheme for processed fruit and vegetables like passata (pulped tomatoes) and some meat products like chicken and turkey, in order to exploit the perceived quality of a “made in Italy” label, De Castro said.

Reporting by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Caroline Drees

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