France's Agriculture Minister Herve Gaymard has confirmed that the government will appeal against the recent ruling from Brussels granting protected denomination of origin (PDO) status to feta cheese, according to reports in the French press.
Greece has been fighting for years for the right to claim that its cheese is the original and only feta, but has always faced strong opposition from other Member States, led by France and Denmark, both of which have major feta production.
Earlier this year the Commission finally bowed to pressure from the Greeks and granted the PDO status, but other feta producers vowed immediately that they would not let the matter rest. France was thought to be preparing an appeal against the decision, and last weekend Gaymard confirmed that the country would bring the case before the European Court of Justice.
In a letter to Jacques Godfrain, the mayor of the southern French town of Millau and the heart of the country's feta industry, Gaymard said that France and Denmark would present a joint appeal to the ECJ in a bid to have the ruling overturned. The letter coincided with protests in the streets of Millau by thousands of French feta producers.
As we reported in October, the Commission granted countries other than Greece five years to phase out feta production after finally agreeing that there was sufficient evidence to show that consumers associated the cheese with Greece above all other countries.
But producers elsewhere argued that this was insufficient to grant PDO status, and that in fact little had changed since the Commission ruled against Greece in 1999. As one UK feta manufacturer told Food and Drink Europe.com at the time, the cheese is thought to have originated in France or Italy and Greece's victory is more to do with the clever manipulation of the 'eurocrats' in Brussels than any real right to the name.
With thousands of people in France and Denmark alone, to say nothing of Germany, the UK and other EU countries, dependent on feta cheese for their livelihood, the appeal will be well supported, and a fresh investigation of Greece's evidence will be necessary - no doubt an investigation that Athens would rather not see, given the somewhat tenuous claims it is said to contain.