Italian ham producers don't mince words

The long-running test case battle over use of the name "Parma" on ham sliced and packaged in the UK rather than in Italy is heading for another legal round, this time in the House of Lords.

The Law Lords have given leave for Italian group Cornsorzio Del Prosciutto Di Parma to challenge an Appeal Court ruling in which it was held that Asda Stores and food packagers Hygrade Foods were entitled to sell Parma ham which was the genuine product but which was sliced and packaged in the UK under the name Parma ham.

Cornsorzio claims that although the ham sold by Asda is produced by one of the largest Parma ham producers in Italy, the fact it is sliced and packaged in England means Asda is not legally entitled to sell it using the Parma name.

Cornsorzio del Prosciutto, an association of Parma ham producers, argued that the Appeal Court and High Court misdirected themselves as to the effect of European Council regulations.

The pre-sliced ham sold by Asda at the centre of the legal battle is produced by Italy's Cesare Fiorucci SpA, and is then sliced and packaged in England by Hygrade.

There has been no complaint about the standard of the product or that it is not Parma ham.

Cornsorzio claims that under Italian law pre-packaged sliced Parma ham can only be described as such if sliced and packaged in plants in Parma under the association's supervision.

So far, however, Asda and Hygrade have successfully argued that EC regulations do not give the association the right to prevent sale of the Asda product.

Lord Justice Aldous said in December he had come to a clear view that regulations relating to Parma ham were not directly enforceable against Asda and that the association had no enforceable rights which enabled it to bring the proceedings it had sought to bring against Asda.

No date has been fixed for the House of Lords challenge but it is expected to be heard towards the end of this year or early in 2000.

Ultimately, it seems likely that this is a dispute which could end up going to the European Court of Justice.