Food firms asked for views on protecting geographic brands
The Government has launched a consultation on how to protect the names of foods linked to places - such as Lough Neagh Eels or Irish Whiskey - after Brexit.
Food producers in Northern Ireland whose products are specific to the region are being urged by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to share their views.
The new UK Geographical Indications (GI) scheme will replace the existing EU protected food names scheme.
It will continue to recognise the economic and cultural importance of certain products by granting legal protection against imitation by introducing civil penalties and a fine of up to £40,000.
John Russell, managing director of Glenarm Organic Salmon, called the move a "fantastic opportunity" for local produce.
"We went for all-Ireland PGI (protected geographical indication) status for Irish salmon about six years ago, but unfortunately due to politics and the strength of anti-salmon farming lobbyists it wasn't accepted," he said.
"We will definitely consider applying under this UK scheme, but this is a fantastic opportunity for all local producers because NI has some world class produce worthy of PGI status. There's also a lot of fraud goes on around the world."
Comber New Potatoes, Armagh Bramley Apples and Lough Neagh Eels are the only three products from Northern Ireland that currently enjoy PGI status.
Irish Cream, Irish Poteen and Irish Whiskey all enjoy all-island status under EU rules. Lough Neagh Pollan enjoys safeguards under the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) scheme.
The fishing boss believes seafood providers could stand to benefit the most.
"We just had 2,500 products on show at the Blas na hEreann food awards in Ireland and it was a Kilkeel-based firm's oysters which were crowned supreme champion," Mr Russell said.
"Other NI producers came out very well, which demonstrates the quality of our seafood."
However, Rooney's Fish boss Andrew Rooney, whose Millbay Oysters picked up the coveted award, said he would prefer the Government to clarify other major issues before consulting on protected food names.
"I'd rather know what is going to happen to my ECC registration number, which I need to trade around the world," he said.
"I also want to know what is going to happen with foreign national workers, because at the moment no one will come and I need to know if my lorries will be able to cross the border."
All existing GI products will automatically be protected under the proposed new scheme, but whether or not the EU will recognise the status is subject to ongoing Brexit negotiations.
West Country Farmhouse Cheddar cheese, the Cornish pasty and traditional Cumberland sausage are also among the UK foods which are currently protected.
The Government is also seeking ideas for a new logo for GI foods.
- Further details of the consultation, which closes on November 2, can be found online at www.defra.gov.uk.