The U.S. Dairy Exporter Blog: Market Analysis, Research & News

  • 61 U.S. senators ask for more protection of feta, parmesan and other common food names

    By Mark O'Keefe July 31, 2020

    A bipartisan letter asks the U.S. government to enhance protection of common food names as a core policy objective in all trade-related discussions.

    In February 2015, Tom Vilsack, then the U.S. Agriculture Secretary, participated in a public forum with his counterpart in Europe, Phil Hogan, then the EU Commissioner of Agricultural and Rural Development.

    Turning to Hogan, Vilsack said he was still "waiting to see on a map where feta is."

    Five years have passed and feta still isn't on a map.

    The EU, however, has only increased its misuse of protections meant for valid geographical indications (GIs). This threatens American exports of not only feta but other generic food and wine terms, including parmesan, bologna and chateau.

    USTR and USDA get bipartisan request

    On Thursday, 61 U.S. senators sent U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue a letter urging stronger international safeguards to protect U.S. exporters using common food and wine terms. 

    The letter requests that the U.S. government enhance their common food name protections as a core policy objective in all trade-related discussions.

    In a news release, the U.S. Dairy Export Council joined a diverse range of farm and agricultural industries praising the effort.  

    "By putting protections for common food and wine terms first, we will ensure that American-made products do not come in last,” said Tom Vilsack, who is now the President and CEO of USDEC.

    Background: Billions of dollars at stake

    The EU argues "Geographical Indications" gives it exclusive use of food and wine terms – like feta, bologna and chateau – used on thousands of American-made products to accurately guide consumers.

    If the EU secures exclusive use of feta, parmesan, gorgonzola, asiago and other common cheese names, it could reduce U.S. cheese consumption 21% over 10 years and cost U.S. dairy farmers a cumulative $59 billion, according to a study (download summary) commissioned by the Consortium for Common Food Names. 


    CLICK PLAY ARROW, LOWER LEFT, TO WATCH VIDEO BELOW

    Numerous EU trade deals limit use of generic food names

    Below is a non-comprehensive list of trade agreements or negotiations that the EU has used to block U.S. exports and limit U.S. use of generic terms:

    1. EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement 
    2. EU-Central America Free Trade Agreement 
    3. EU-Canada Free Trade Agreement 
    4. EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement
    5. EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement
    6. EU-China 100 for 100 GIs Agreement 
    7. EU-Mexico Free Trade Agreement 
    8. EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement

    The EU's efforts to block use of common cheese names with complicated, costly and sometimes illegal trade practices get “exported” to other markets via EU free trade agreements, thereby harming U.S. access to those markets as well.

    Misusing GIs to monopolize common food names

    Geographical indications (GIs) are used legitimately to describe specialized products made in a specific region in a specific manner in order to protect the unique nature of that product, such as Idaho potatoes.

    But no one would ever think that Idaho potato growers have exclusive use of the stand-alone terms Idaho or potatoes. GIs are not meant to be used to restrict generic names or common terms that derive from part of the protected name, but all too often that’s what is taking place in key U.S. export markets.

    The European Union (EU) misuses protections meant for proper GIs to monopolize common food and wine terms and raise unjustified trade barriers to block American exports.


    Bipartisan coalition 

    Signers of the letter sent Thursday included several senators holding leadership positions on committees with jurisdiction over this issue, notably the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Finance and the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture.

    The letter also includes the Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property.

    In addition to USDEC, farm and agricultural industries commending the letter include:

    • Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN)
    • American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF)
    • North America Meat Institute (NAMI)
    • National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA)
    • National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF)
    • Wine Institute (WI)

    “The United States has been fighting the EU’s unfair GI trade policies with one hand tied behind its back while the EU has been battling with its full force," said Jaime Castaneda, executive director of CCFN and senior vice president, trade policy, for USDEC.

    Mark O'Keefe is vice president of editorial services at the U.S. Dairy Export Council.


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    The U.S. Dairy Export Council fosters collaborative industry partnerships with processors, trading companies and others to enhance global demand for U.S. dairy products and ingredients. USDEC is primarily supported by Dairy Management Inc. through the dairy farmer checkoff. How to republish this post.  

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