The cheeses Parmesan, Gorgonzola and Fontina are known to be produced in Europe and are attributed to a particular region of the continent producing them. But there are cheeses in the U.S. bearing the same names with their European counterparts.
Now, as part of trade talks, the EU wants to ban the use of names like Parmesan, feta and Gorgonzola on cheese made in the United States. The argument is that the American-made cheeses are shadows of the original European varieties and cut into sales and identity of the European cheeses.
The EU wants to ensure that its products and especially cheese are unique, so as to distribute them on the growing commercial markets of Asia. Such a decision, however, would be very inconvenient for Americans, who would learn that the white cheese they are consuming for years isn’t considered “Feta” anymore, said John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, which annually counts profits of over $10 billion.
Since 1990, the EU has already decided that only certain products will bear the name of the region of production, such as whiskey associated with Scotland, or sparkling wine with the region of Champagne in France, thus forbidding other areas of using those names. In 2012, the EU went a step further and signed a trade agreement with South Korea specifying that the name “feta” can refer only to the cheese made in Greece, as well as some Italian cheeses only to Italy.
Meanwhile, U.S. dairy producers, cheese makers and food companies are all fighting the idea, which they say would hurt the $4 billion domestic cheese industry and endlessly confuse consumers.
And it may not just be cheese. Other products with traditional ties to European countries that could be affected include bologna, Black Forest ham, Greek yogurt, Valencia oranges and prosciutto, among other foods.
“It’s really stunning that the Europeans are trying to claw back products made popular in other countries,” says Jim Mulhern, president of the National Milk Producers Federation, which represents U.S. dairy farmers.