US Senators shocked by EU’s cheese-name claims


In a rare act of bipartisan unity, dozens of US senators have wheeled into action against what they call an "absurd" European initiative that would force name changes to common cheese varieties produced in the United States.

Would a Stilton cheese by any other name smell as sweet? The EU’s request to rename cheese that is not produced in their region of origin grated on the US lawmakers.

"Can you imagine going into a grocery store and cheddar and provolone are called something else?" said Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican.

Toomey and Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, rallied more than half of the 100-member Senate to urge US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and US Trade Representative Michael Froman to fight the EU cheese-naming proposal.

Canada agreed recently to impose restrictions on the use of "feta" and other common cheese names, but the senators said for the United States, no whey.

"Many small- or medium-sized family-owned farms and firms could have their business unfairly restricted by the EU's push to use geographical indications as a barrier to dairy trade and competition," they said.

The senators said their action was supported by Kraft Foods Group, Denver-based Leprino Foods, the world's largest mozzarella maker, and groups such as the National Milk Producers Association, US Dairy Export Council, and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

"Muenster is Muenster, no matter how you slice it," Schumer said on Tuesday.

Emerging dispute over geographical indications?

The dispute over cheese names could be a foretaste of things to come over geographical indications of food products as the US and the EU continue negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

In Europe, wine and food producers rely on protected geographical indications to name products such as Cognac, Roquefort cheese, Sherry, Parmigiano Reggiano, but also Basmati rice or Darjeeling tea.

The protection of geographical indications can create value for local communities through products that are deeply rooted in tradition, culture and geography, argues the European Commission’s trade department.

A recent study by the Munich-based European patent office, showed that 35% of European jobs depend on patents, trademarks, designs, copyrights and geographical indications. About half of all EU industries are IP-intensive, the report said. 

>> Read: Study: 35% of EU jobs depend on intellectual property rights

Pekka Pesonen, the boss of the EU farmer organisation Copa-Cogeca, warned that EU-US trade negotiations should “not rock the boat” when it comes to consumer confidence in food and farming products.

“From a US-EU farmer’s perspective we have a common interest not to rock the boat at the end on either market, in the US or in the EU. Consumer confidence has to be maintained, no matter what,” Pesonen told EurActiv in an interview last December.

>> Read: Farming boss: TTIP must not rock the boat

External links: 

European Commission



Mike Parr's picture

I'm puzzled by the mention of Kraft, I did not know they produced cheese. I have seen cheese-like products with the Kraft name on them but thought they were feed-stock for the production of plastic items? - I suppose one learns something new every day - Kraft makes cheese! - who would have thought it?

In the case of names, why not "Made like Feta & Made in the USA" or something like that. This would appeal to the patriotism that is a feature of many US citizens whilst making it clear that what they are buying is like Feta but does not come from Greece. Or is this a case of common sense colliding with the US body politic?

xam's picture

It shows Schumer et al are unaware of what quality really means. If you take cheesemaking; what differentiates special cheese from 'generic' cheese is the specific enzymes, the air, the grass, the soil, the equpiment used, handling methods etc. These can be more or less copied but is it the 'real' thing? As far as I remember in Brazil they indeed indicate "cheese of the type of.." (meaning - resembling)

If the US is succesful in fighting this, we will be importing Parmesan and Champagne from the US. This is the whole idea behind these trade talks - undermining regulation without having to bother annulling it.

This is just one of the examples why the entire philosophy of TTIP is disadvantageous to European producers and general culture of life.

ConstantFlyer's picture

Will this eventually include Hamburgers? If so, the Americans are in trouble!

Joachim Körner's picture

In this case, I believe, - and by the way, I am a European citizen living in the U.S.- it is more about what matters to the consumer:
Average Americans do not look at the labels of origin, as Europeans do. They just buy "apples", not "apples from Normandy", or "France". So proper labeling is important; for Europeans, that is. But the issue can be daunting. If the Europeans give in to the pressure of big business America on this issue, what will be at stake, next? I hope Europeans do not give up the fight against GMOs. But, beware, is Monsanto not starting a new trend: "accelerated crossbreeding"?

randydutton's picture

The 'name protection' requirement could be the nail in the coffin of TTIP. Most Americans now are less likely to support it.

ConstantFlyer, your comment about hamburgers really hits home!