US senators have objected to an ‘absurd’ European initiative to protect local cheese names, which would force changes to common names in the States.
The EU says names such as asiago, feta and parmesan refer to certain places (‘geographical indicators’), and should only be used on products made in those regions.
The geographic indication restrictions have been raised in negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is trying to make it easier to buy and sell goods and services between the EU and US.
Confusion for consumers
But both Republican and Democrat senators say this would force a change in cheese names in the US, which would confuse consumers and American dairy farmers would suffer.
“Can you imagine going into a grocery store and cheddar and provolone are called something else?” said Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican.
“Generations of dairy farmers and producers have worked hard to cultivate a product and brand that resonates with consumers. Efforts by the EU to establish trade guidelines which would restrict branding are ridiculous.”
Small and medium sized family owned farms would be unfairly restricted, the senators say. They say the geographic indications are a barrier to dairy trade and competition.
Fight EU proposals
Senators Toomey (Republican) and Charles Schumer (Democrat) have urged the US Department of Agriculture and US Trade Representative to fight the EU proposals, in a letter signed by more than 50 senators.
Kraft and Leprino Foods, a manufacturer of mozzarella cheese and exporter of whey products, have supported the senators, Toomey said.
They also have the backing of the National Milk Producers Association, International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), US Dairy Export Council and others.
“These lawmakers understand the importance of lifting trade barriers and fighting the kinds of restrictions that have the capacity to stall job growth in the United States and limit our expanding dairy export market,” said Connie Tipton, president and CEO, IDFA.
“Protecting the ability of US cheese makers to use common cheese names is a top priority for IDFA.”
The European Commission says the protection of geographical indications is necessary for local cultures and their economy.
“Geographical indicators create value for local communities through products that are deeply rooted in tradition, culture and geography,” it said. “They support rural development and promote new job opportunities in production, processing and other related services.”
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