A new law will beef up protection for consumers from businesses that falsely advertise their food and drink as being from brand-name locations, such as wine from Bordeaux or beef from Kobe, when they are not.
But it will not protect local businesses such as the famous Katong Laksa against false claims. That is because the ingredients of the laksa dish are likely not from Katong.
That emerged from an exchange between Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah and Mr Christopher De Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who is also a lawyer, during the debate on a Bill to improve protection offered for the labels known as "geographical indications" (GIs).
GIs are used by businesses to identify a product with the town or region it comes from, such as Darjeeling for the well-known tea leaves grown in the Indian hills.
GIs are protected here under the GI Act.
Ms Indranee said yesterday that for a product to qualify as a GI, its components would have to be grown or originate from the region the GI represents.
So for "Katong" to qualify, Ms Indranee said, "the laksa leaf would have to be a Katong laksa leaf, the rice flour (used) would have to come from rice grown in Katong and the taupok (soya bean puff) would have to come from the soya bean that was grown in Katong.
"The clams would have to be harvested there as well."
She was replying to a call by Mr De Souza to not leave out popular dishes in Singapore from being similarly protected.
The Bill passed yesterday allows businesses to register for GIs with a registry under the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore.
Previously, GIs did not need to be registered here.
Ms Indranee said registration would help improve the certainty of protection for GIs.
This is because, without it, the label can only be "conclusively determined that it is a GI through a court ruling in a civil suit", she said.
Under the Bill, owners of a GI product can also request the Singapore Customs to seize goods - to be imported into or exported out of Singapore - which are suspected of violating a protected GI.
The date the Bill changes will be implemented depends on the progress of the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement.
This article was published on April 14 in The Straits Times.
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