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  • EU's Threat to Common Cheese Names Hits Home

    By Jaime Castaneda March 10, 2014

    17197604_sThe threat is very real and obviously escalating, as any glance at the past six months’ events will attest.

    What seemed like a European Union (EU) delusion a decade ago has grown increasingly closer to reality. The EU is slowly but surely erecting a series of trade barriers with, ironically, a succession of free trade agreements that limit the use of broadly common cheese names to manufacturers in all but select EU geographic regions.

    The bloc’s now well-known strategy of claiming geographic indication (GI) protection has already effectively blocked U.S. and other world cheese producers from a number of markets. Each victory appears to embolden the leaders to a point where they are steadily expanding their crusade to an ever-wider list of cheese names and ever-broader geography.

    The EU is consistently pushing for new restrictive language in trade deals with China, Japan and multiple countries of Latin America and the Middle East, all of which could have considerable negative impact on burgeoning U.S. cheese exports. More directly, through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the EU has repeatedly stated that it is now looking to strip U.S. cheesemakers from utilizing common cheese (and possibly other dairy) names right here in the United States.

    The threat is very real and obviously escalating, as any glance at the past six months’ events will attest.

    • That October, the EU and Canada finalized their bilateral Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, in which Canada agreed to new restrictions on the use of asiago, feta, fontina, gorgonzola and muenster—clearly generic names in Canada as they are in the United States.
    • In November, Costa Rica banned all non-EU cheesemakers from using parmesan and provolone due to GI language inserted into the EU-Central America Association Agreement. The move confirmed one of USDEC’s biggest concerns that EU diplomatic pressure would be too intense to resist giving even broader leeway in restricting common names than already exists in the EU itself.

    • In February, the EU allowed Denmark to move forward with a GI application to limit the use of “havarti” to cheeses manufactured in Denmark. The move is particularly noteworthy not only because havarti is widely used worldwide but also because the name has an established international product standard. It was the significant international production of havarti that played a key role in the evaluation process that resulted in finalizing a Codex Alimentarius standard for the cheese in 2007. Allowing Denmark to apply for an havarti GI calls into question the EU’s commitment to the international standards setting process and casts doubts on whether any generic food term is safe from being confiscated by the European Commission.

    • Then again in February, a UK court ruling concluded that only yogurt manufactured in Greece could use the name “Greek yogurt.” The ruling, for a term that is not even a registered GI, seeks to broaden the already far-too-expansive scope of what European courts and officials are declaring to be off-limits to all but a select group of producers in one region of the world. Following the same logic applied by the UK court, a host of other products—from Belgian waffles to English breakfast tea—would seem to be able to claim the same geographical restrictions.

    Prior to its formation of the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) as an independent organization two years ago, the U.S. Dairy Export Council—and now CCFN—has consistently maintained that GIs are not bad in principle. There is a place for the protection of distinctive foods from distinct regions. Parmigiano Reggiano, for example, rightfully warrants protection.

    The EU, however, has gone far beyond that principle to prevent all cheesemakers outside of a region in Italy, for example, from using the name parmesan, a common cheese type that, after two centuries of global immigration and globalization, is clearly a generic term identifying a type of product and not an item having been manufactured in one particular region of the world.

    The EU’s attack on common food names is unceasing. Its goal to erect trade barriers is giving EU cheesemakers an illegal and undeserved advantage over cheese producers in the United States, Costa Rica, Argentina, New Zealand, and elsewhere.

    TTIP cannot allow further EU encroachment. TTIP GI discussions should be done on a separate forum and focus on uprooting the barriers the EU has been planting domestically and globally to its competitors. The EU must begin rolling back restrictions on exports to the EU from the United States of parmesan, feta and other cheeses, and reserving the right to use common names in the United States.

    (This article first appeared in Cheese Market News in March 2014.) 

    Image copyright: 123RF Stock Photo

    The U.S. Dairy Export Council is primarily supported by Dairy Management Inc. through the dairy farmer checkoff that builds on collaborative industry partnerships with processors, trading companies and others to build global demand for U.S. dairy products. 



    Trade Policy Geographical Indications (GIs) EU Common food names
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