How did WW1 and WW2 impact French geographical indications?

In the past months, this Kat has been captivated by the question of how wars impact traditional regional products and, ultimately, the registration of geographical indications (GIs) [see also earlier posts on the Versailles Treaty and on Camembert]. I would now like to share with our readers some of the stories uncovered during this research.


For the study, I decided to focus on France and its protected designations of origin (PDOs).

Besides being one of the countries most affected by World War 1 (WW1) and World War 2 (WW2), France is among the few European countries that require GI producers to describe the product’s history in the registration documents.

I chose PDOs, rather than protected geographical indications (PGIs), because of the PDOs’ intrinsic connection with the land and the people (also known as terroir): as hostilities devastate a country, they naturally impact the local vineyards, as well as the people who work there.

As a final methodological note (out of fear of boring our readers too much), I took registration documents (known as ‘specifications’) of the 471 French PDOs registered end of 2022 and analysed them to spot references to WW1 and WW2.

Negative impacts

The analysis has shown that 43 French PDOs (roughly, 9%) were impacted by either WW1, or WW2, or by both of them. In absolute numbers, wines and cheeses were most affected, but they are also the most represented products among the French PDOs.

Naturally, the war impact was mostly negative. This is hardly unexpected given the disastrous effects of the two wars on the French population, economy, and agriculture alike.

Amongst other, these negative impacts included changes in the PDOs’ production practices or production area, shortage of labour due to mobilisation of workforce, decline in production, restrictions on exports.

For instance, producers of the Munster cheese had to change the traditional cattle breeds used in the production of this cheese, so as to quickly reconstitute the herds decimated by the two wars. In addition to the Vosgienne breed, indigenous to the area where Munster is produced, other breeds were introduced, such as Simmental and Montbéliarde.

For the French honey ‘Miel de Corse’, demographic losses in both wars made the beekeeping traditions almost lost, with the exception of a few villages. Moreover, in the aftermath of WW2 the reconstruction and the ensuing industrial boom led to a rural exodus, which negatively affected several PDOs, such as the ‘Olive de Nice’.

Another WW2 impact was an administrative crisis within the French GI authority, INAO, in 1939-1941 (which slowed down the examination of applications, including that of PDO ‘Saint-Pourçain’). French scholars explain that this interruption was due to the mobilisation of a large part of the administrative staff and the evacuation of the INAO from Paris. Work activities resumed in 1941, but not at pre-war levels.

Positive impacts

Now, what came as a surprise (at least to this Kat) was that WW1 and WW2 also had a positive impact on the French PDOs. This materialised itself through an increase in consumption, and an enhanced reputation beyond the original region of production.

This positive impact was mainly due either to import restrictions that made the French population turn to local produce, or to the fact that certain products were supplied to the French army during WW1 or WW2. For example, a shortage of imported oils and fats restored the economic importance of olive growing, including the PDO ‘Olive de Nîmes’.

For the PDO ‘Juliénas’, a wine from Beaujolais, WW2 marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship among the journalists of the satirical newspaper ‘Le Canard Enchaîné’. While taking refuge in Lyon, the journalists discovered this local wine and praised Juliénas as their source of inspiration.

Moreover, war shortages forced certain producers to become more innovative. According to local historians, during WW1 the French government confiscated horses from the population. This completely paralysed the shipments of PDO ‘Roquefort’. In these conditions, producers of Roquefort came up with an innovative solution (consider that this was happening around 1915!) and purchased trucks.

Final thoughts

One category of impacts that such analysis will always fail to cover is traditional products that, as a result of a war, disappeared altogether. Earlier research on Central and Eastern Europe shows that many potential GIs vanished because of human losses and population displacements.

Yet, past conflicts may also inform policy developments for modern history. Wars may both affect long-established production methods, as well as boost a product's reputation (as it has happened in Ukraine with ‘Kherson Watermelon’ during the Russian invasion). In either case, GIs can act as a legal tool to preserve local heritage and traditions.
How did WW1 and WW2 impact French geographical indications? How did WW1 and WW2 impact French geographical indications? Reviewed by Anastasiia Kyrylenko on Friday, January 19, 2024 Rating: 5

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