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Cornish pasties: the tastiest victims of a Brexit?

3 min

Pool (United Kingdom) (AFP)

A favourite of 19th century miners who took them down the pit and a popular lunch to this day, the Cornish pasty and other delicacies with EU protected status could be threatened if Britain leaves the bloc.

The pasty -- a D-shape of pastry filled with beef, potato, swede, onion and seasoning -- has been given protected geographical indication (PGI) status by the European Union as a mark of quality.

In Cornwall, southwest England, where the pasty is a symbol of local identity as well as a tasty delicacy, some manufacturers are wary of what will happen.

Marion Symonds, boss of Portreath Bakery, said that if the snacks lost the PGI status they gained in 2011, similar products made outside Cornwall could also be called Cornish pasties, compromising quality.

"In Cornwall, you'd never get a pasty with a carrot in it because it's taboo," Symonds told AFP.

"But if you went out of county -- and I've seen it myself, in London and all sorts of places -- where they try to do a replica of our pasty, it's just got mush in the middle."

Other British foodstuffs given protected PGI status include Scotch whisky and Melton Mowbray pork pies.

Elsewhere in the EU, Italian balsamic vinegar from Modena and German beer from Munich have PGI status.

The Cornish pasty industry is worth an estimated £65 million (80 million euros, $90 million) a year and employs at least 2,000 people in an area where, due to the tourist trade, work is often seasonal.

Symonds, who has opened what claims to be the world's first drive-through Cornish pasty bakery, fears such success could be hit if it lost its EU status.

"We wouldn't have a hope and it wouldn't be right," she added.

- Exported round the globe -

Legend has it that Cornish pasties were popularised by tin miners, who ate them underground holding the crust before discarding it to avoid arsenic poisoning.

Miners took pasty recipes with them around the world as they travelled to work in countries like Australia and Mexico, where they are still eaten to this day.

The Cornish Pasty Association, a body which represents the local industry, this month declared its support for EU membership, saying it would be "wholly inappropriate" to risk the hard-earned status.

Prime Minister David Cameron has also warned that the status of British regional foods could be jeopardised by leaving the EU.

"Remain" campaigners like Cameron are not the only ones seeking to appropriate the humble pasty.

Brexit backer Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, brandished one in a bid to express solidarity for the southwest as he began a campaign bus tour of the country in Cornwall last month.

Intellectual property lawyers say it is hard to know whether British PGI foods would lose their protected status if it left the EU as no country has ever withdrawn before.

They predict a period of uncertainty but suggest it could eventually be possible to reach a reciprocal arrangement between Britain and the EU to maintain the current regime.

Not all Cornish pasty makers believe that the EU is good for them, protected status or not.

John Beard set up the Pasty Line, which makes Cornish pasties for bakeries, pubs and nursing homes, with his now ex-wife in 1993.

While Beard acknowledged that PGI status is "very useful", he said the amount of bureaucracy which the EU imposes on businesses will make him vote to leave.

"They cause us a lot of heartache from red tape," he told AFP, as staff behind him filled rows of pasties with uncooked beef and vegetables before they were crimped, glazed and baked.

"I would love to have a bit of credit for some common sense but that's just not an issue when you've got rules and regulations made by someone lots of miles away," he added.

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