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Scotch whisky verification scheme launched to help protect genuine brands

Businesses that wish to produce or market Scotch whisky will need to be verified by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) as part of a new scheme designed to prevent fake or sub-standard alternatives being sold in the EU.

HMRC's Spirit Drinks Verification Scheme implements and strengthens EU rules that offer protection to products originating from a particular geographic region, intellectual property law expert George Campbell of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said.

EU laws place restrictions on the sale or production of certain goods that are synonymous with particular areas of Europe. This means that Scotch whisky, Parma ham and champagne, among other products with a geographic indication, can only be referred to as such if they conform to certain "technical specifications". HMRC said its new scheme implements the requirement of those laws that there is a check done on businesses' compliance with those specifications.

Under the new Spirit Drinks Verification Scheme, businesses are required to apply to HMRC for verification that their production of Scotch whisky meets the required technical specifications. HMRC will publish a list of those that conform to the requirements. Businesses that do not apply for verification or do not meet the standards will be prohibited from marketing the products they make as Scotch whisky within the EU, it said.

"This is a positive development from the perspective of the UK and Scottish drinks industry," Campbell said. "The scheme strengthens the protection of the vitally important Scotch whisky brand and will also serve to improve the protection of consumers."

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, said in a statement: "The verification scheme will make sure people who buy Scotch get what they pay for – the finest spirit in the world. The booming Scotch whisky industry is a huge asset to Scotland and the UK which benefits from being part of the UK and European market. The UK government is doing its bit today to step in and make sure that cheap fakes don’t undermine this unique global export."

David Frost, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive, added: "Geographical Indication status is of great commercial value to the Scotch whisky industry. This is a step change in the protection of Scotch whisky and should be warmly welcomed. We fully support the introduction of the verification scheme by the UK Government. It will give even more protection to consumers of Scotch whisky. It will greatly improve the industry’s ability to stop the sale of adulterated Scotch Whiskies bottles abroad."

Other UK drinks with geographic origin, such as Somerset cider brandy and Irish whiskey produced in Northern Ireland could in future also fall subject to the verification process, HMRC said.

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