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Brexit Could Spell Danger for Scotch and Stilton Cheese

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The European Union currently protects these foods — but that could all change with Thursday's vote

Is Stilton cheese in danger?
Is Stilton cheese in danger?
Lars Plougmann/Flickr

"Brexit" may sound like a corporate food service company or an industrial-strength cleaner, but it's considerably more important than that: It refers to the United Kingdom's possible separation from the European Union, a referendum that's being put to the vote on Thursday.

If UK voters decide to leave the EU, it will have far-reaching implications, from suspending immigration to disrupting trade with other nations and possibly triggering a recession. But on a smaller scale, the New Republic points out it could also have a major impact on Britain's prized specialty foods.

As the New Republic explains, "The European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin status guarantees and safeguards the authenticity of many regional and traditional foods," such as Scotch and Stilton cheese. Leaving the EU would strip away those protections for UK products, meaning for instance, any cheesemaker in the world could potentially label their product as "Stilton" without ramifications.

While a newly independent UK could seek UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status for, say, the process of making Scotch, such proclamations don't actually do much to protect foodstuffs from imitators; it's more of a formality intended to help instill a sense of national pride (and perhaps give tourism a boost).

But however much of an impact it could have on the UK's specialty foods, Brexit would have much greater implications for the restaurant industry. "The main concern has been for the hospitality and tourism industry because the free movement of workers within the EU will be a problem — so chefs and especially servers are going to be hit the hardest," London resident and Eater contributor Pelin Keskin explains. "The obsession with a threat to national identity and fear of more brown bodies results in Brexiters thinking they're shedding off what is essentially an imagined burden. Instead they'll be shedding off a real part of the identity they're claiming to protect."

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