Potato awarded special EU status
A humble Irish potato has been bestowed with special status after being singled out for protection by European law makers.
The safeguards won by the Comber Early do not mean it is off the menu, just that its name cannot be pilfered by any impostor crops.
The spud, known for being harvested early in the season, has been granted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status under EU law. That means only those lifted from the fields round the Co Down village can be called New Season Comber Potatoes or Comber Earlies.
The potato now joins an elite selection of brands synonymous with a particular region that have been granted the protection. Its illustrious company includes Champagne, Parma ham and feta cheese.
Comber Earlies are the second product from Northern Ireland afforded PGI recognition, following the Lough Neagh Eels.
Stormont's agriculture and rural development minister Michelle O'Neill welcomed the move.
"New Season Combers/Comber Earlies are famed for being the earliest local potato to be harvested and for their unique characteristics," she said. "We are justifiably proud of the quality of our locally produced food and it is encouraging to have our products recognised internationally.
"PGI registration is good news for the local economy and will help local growers to market New Season Combers domestically and further afield and protect against imitation. It will also build consumer confidence in this product by providing reassurance of its provenance."
Angus Wilson, of the Northern Ireland Potato Stakeholders Forum, added: "This EC recognition will allow the industry to market Comber Earlies with renewed confidence, particularly in the domestic market, and may also encourage some producers to seek to develop markets further afield.
"It is a real testament to New Season Combers that within an island known for potatoes, they can be identified as having unique characteristics."