Swan’s Island lobsterman part of “2013 Terroir Tour de France”

First published in Landings, November, 2013.

Maine Lobstermen’s Association director Jason Joyce of Swan’s Island recently traveled to France as part of a group of American food producers invited by the French Ministry of Agriculture. The invitation was extended in order to provide an exchange of ideas and information between the Americans and their French counterparts concerning promotion and protection of regionally identified agricultural products.

Maine lobster took a trip to France! Photo courtesy of Jason Joyce.

Maine lobster took a trip to France! Photo courtesy of Jason Joyce.

The exchange was entitled “The 2013 Terroir Tour de France” and ran from September 29 to October 4. “Terroir” is the French word that incorporates elements of geographic area, soil, climate, history and farming or fishing techniques that are associated with products from particular French regions.

In addition to Joyce, who represented the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the American delegation included producers of Idaho Potatoes, Vermont Maple Syrup, Hawaii Kona Coffee, New Mexico Native Chiles, and Wisconsin Ginseng. Each delegate’s organization is affiliated with the American Origin Products Association (AOPA), an umbrella organization that provides a national voice for regional agricultural products.

The Americans met with their counterparts from France, producers of that country’s many renowned regional products, including Champagne, Comte Cheese, Bresse Chicken, Grenoble Walnuts, Jura Wines, and Vosges Fir-Tree Honey. Also participating were representatives of various local, regional, and national governmental agencies, including the Chief of the International Department of the French Agriculture Ministry.

“French cheesemakers, such as this Comté cheese maker from the Franch- Comté region of the country, adhere to strict standards for the use of regional names. The French government works to protect those names at home and abroad. Photo courtesy of Jason Joyce.

French cheesemakers, such as this Comté cheese maker from the Franch- Comté region of the country, adhere to strict standards for the use of regional names. The French government works to protect those names at home and abroad. Photo courtesy of Jason Joyce.

Joyce and his colleagues saw for themselves the dedication of French farmers to traditional methods of production and to the quality of their products. The Americans were also impressed by the active support from governmental agencies at all levels in promoting French regional products throughout the world and in protecting those products from counterfeiting and deceptive labeling by competitors in France and abroad. One representative noted that “even for a small-scale specialty product like Vosges Fir-Tree Honey, governmental agencies provided active assistance in putting a stop to the marketing of counterfeit honey from Poland.”

The French, in turn, were surprised by the meager support given by U.S. federal agencies for American regional products. “The French government protects the local farmer’s or fisherman’s good name and product from being misrepresented world-wide very seriously and aggressively,” Joyce commented. “Maine lobster was recognized by all the Frenchmen I met as a name representing the very best lobster and of the highest quality, a name to be proud of.”

The exchange highlighted the fact that in both countries French and American farmers and fishermen share a commitment to protect the regional heritage and identity of specialty products and shellfish. It also pointed out the extent to which American producers and federal agencies can learn from France and other European countries about better ways to support regionally distinctive products. The American Origin Products Association (AOPA) continues to work with producers and producer groups across the U.S. with products closely tied to their region of origin. More information can be found at www.aop-us.org.