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Jerk Rice and Jamie Oliver: the Case for Protected Foods

It seems I inadvertently caused a twitter storm this week; I was sent a photograph by my sister who had spotted that Jamie Oliver has launched a new product which he called “Punchy Jerk Rice”.  My reaction was one of outrage and as I was sitting on a beach in Italy with nothing much to do I put out the following tweet:

https://twitter.com/martiburgess/status/1029383660934451201

This tweet has been credited with starting a twitter storm and seems to have ended up in an argument about whether non-Jamaicans can cook Jamaican food which was not the point of my tweet.

I tweeted and felt outrage because Jerk traditionally is a method of cooking meat in a pit (Jerk Pit) over wood and under leaves after the meat has been marinated in certain ingredients most notably pimento (known in the UK as all spice) and scotch bonnet alongside other ingredients such as garlic, ginger and other Jamaican spices. The method was developed by the runaway slaves who lived in the hinterland of Jamaica and was a way of cooking using fire but without creating much smoke which would have given  away their hiding place.  Now meat/fish or tofu is mainly jerked all over the world in a jerk pan or in ovens as not many people have the space to build a jerk pit.

The first point about Jamie’s rice dish is that rice cannot be jerked – imagine trying to cook rice over a fire – but the main point is that if you are going to call something Jerk then it should at least contain the essential ingredients of pimento, scotch bonnets, ginger and the other spices.

Jerk is such an iconic dish that any product containing it in its title should at least contain these traditional ingredients as otherwise it could lead to a misunderstanding of what Jerk is or is just riding on the back of hundred of years of tradition to promote a product which is what I think Jamie Oliver has done.

As a lawyer, I have looked at what could be done legally to protect Jerk from being diluted and stop people like Jamie just using the term without using the traditional ingredients.

In the EU there are three designations that protect food products. These are:

  • protected geographical indication (PGI)
  • protected designation of origin (PDO)
  • traditional speciality guaranteed (TSG)

In order for Jerk to be protected as a PGI then it must be produced, processed or prepared in a geographical area. Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese and Cornish Sardines are protected as PGIs.  The EU will only give a product the PGI mark if they decide it has a reputation, characteristics or qualities that are a result of the area it is associated with.

To be protected under PDO it must be produced, processed and prepared in one area and have distinct characteristics from this area. PDOs differ from PGIs in that all 3 production stages must take place in the area associated with the product.  The EU will only give a product PDO status if they decide it was made using distinct local knowledge. Stilton is an example of a food product protected with the PDO mark.

In my mind, the horse has already bolted and Jerk Marinades could not achieve PDO or PGI status as it is made throughout the world. However, the final protection known as TSG where the emphasis is on the product being made with “traditional” ingredients or techniques rather than being centred on the place where it is made could be available to protect Jerk marinades and rub. 

Similar laws exist throughout the world and my view is the Jamaican government ought to get it act together and start protecting its products before we see more appropriation of the kind that has caused the furore this week.

If you have any questions, contact our Food, Drink & Hospitality Team.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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