France as precursor
Official symbols of product quality and origin

Les AOC : lien étroit entre un produit, un terroir et un savoir-faire traditionnel
Les AOC : lien étroit entre un produit, un terroir et un savoir-faire traditionnel - Crédit : CNIEL

 A long-standing concern nurtured by farmers, food sectors, and government

Improving breed genetics value is a decisive factor for successfully enabling livestock farmers and food sector to achieve productivity gains. However, it also acts as a driver for improving the quality of the products marketed.

Alongside production process and home production zone, the characteristics of each individual breed also play a role in shaping product quality ― characteristics such as protein content, casein profile, omega-3 content, finesse of the muscle fibers, marbling, collagen content, and so on.

On these grounds, and in response to consumer expectations, the ability to offer high-quality products delivering guaranteed characteristics has been a long-standing concern in France. The first modern law awarding an AOC issue was published back in 1925 for Roquefort cheese, and was based on legal records dating all the way back to 1666…

The genetic heritage of the French national herd stock coupled with the skilled experience of French breeders and a vibrant supply sector have since continued to lift the quality of this product.

The French Ministry for Agriculture has progressively built up a legal, technical and regulatory framework making it possible to issue official recognition to the most outstanding products, protect their origin, and provide consumers with guaranteed product characteristics.

France’s unparalleled experience with official schemes for labelling outstanding product quality has essentially templated the Europe-wide system introduced over 1991-1992 (and refreshed in 2006) on the quality and origin policy governing agricultural products and foodstuffs (Council Regulation (EC) No. 510/2006).

 Official symbols of product quality and origin

The Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) is a designation of geographic origin tied to a strictly-boundaried microregion. It guarantees tight links between a product, its local production area, and traditional recognized know-how (in production and/or processing). The interaction between natural, climatic, physical and human factors lends the products its unique set of specific typical qualities. Its equivalent within the European legislative framework is the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)

Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) designates a product originating from a certain geographical area and that possesses a specific quality, reputation or other characteristics attributable to that geographical origin. Like the PDO, it is governed under Council Regulation (EC) No. 510/2006.

The Label Rouge, created in 1960, certifies that the labelled product possesses characteristics that lend it a superior level of quality compared to other similar products. At each stage in the production process, the Label Rouge product has to meet a series of taste and quality specifications that are double-checked by regular inspections, including taste tests and sensory profiling.

The Agriculture Biologique symbol (‘AB’ in France, for organically-farmed) is a guaranteed seal of quality tied to a mode of production that prioritizes environmental and animal welfare interests. Working to exceptionally stringent production specifications and systematic control inspections, the first official recognition of organically-farmed products in France dates from the national agricultural policy reform of 1980, followed at EU level by the core 1991 regulations that have since been amended and revised.

 A strong state involvement and State-backed guarantees

In France, official quality symbols are strictly controlled by the Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries. The management side of this control mission is mandated to the INAO [French national product origin and quality management agency], which was created in 1947 by appointment of the Ministry.

The INAO’s mission is to analyze the production specifications submitted, adjudicate on whether to award official symbols of quality and origin, approve product control plans and oversee that they are applied, and to issue advisories on accreditation for control (COFRAC standard 45011 ) or inspection bodies (standard 17020).

The INAO’s decision-making process canvasses input from representatives from the production, processing and distribution industries, consumer groups, qualified experts and administrative agencies. Inspections on product conformity and specifications compliance are subsequently taken over by independent, accredited inspection or certification bodies, which are themselves regularly inspected by government authorities.


Key figures

  • 4 oficial symbols of product quality and origin
  • 1925: first Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée [AOC; controlled designation of origin]
  • 9 Label Rouge (7 cheeses, 1 butter, 1 cream)
  • 49 AOCs / PDOs [protected designation of origin]
  • 5 IGPs / PGIs [protected geographical indication]
  • 51 Label Rouge (34 beef, 17 sheep)
  • 6 AOCs / PDOs [protected designation of origin]
  • 18 PGIs [protected geographical indication]