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French Gruyere cheese granted EC protected geographical status

By Mark Astley , 10-Dec-2012

French Gruyere cheese has been granted protected geographical indication (PGI) status by the European Commission (EC), after Swiss and French officials met to discuss measures to avoid misleading consumers.

PGI covers agricultural products that are closely linked to a geographical area. At least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation must take place in the specified area to quality for the status.

France applied to the EC to register the name ‘Gruyere’ as a PGI in November 2010. In the application, French Gruyere was described as a cow's milk cheese with a fat content of between 47% and 52% and “holes ranging in size from that of a pea to a cherry.”

This PGI is the second to be granted to Gruyere cheese.

Swiss-made Gruyere cheese was given PGI protection through a bilateral agreement with the European Union (EU), despite not being an EU Member State.

Objections to the French application were submitted by authorities in Australia and New Zealand, and by the US Dairy Exports Council (USDEC) and the US National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).

The EC rebuffed the objections, advising that Gruyere from France be entered into the Register of Protected Designation of Origin and Protected Geographical Indications.

Indicate country of origin

“PDO/PGI committee voted in favour of registering the French cheese ‘Gruyere’ as a protected geographical indication under Regulation 510/2006 on the protection of geographical indications and designations of origin for agricultural products and foodstuffs,” said a statement from the EC.

“This name will not co-exist with ‘Gruyere’ (Switzerland) protected via the EU-Switzerland GI agreement. This agreement already gives EU producers a five-year transition period during which they can continue to use ‘Gruyere’.”

“The draft regulation concerning the registration will now be adopted by the Commission in the weeks to come, and then be published in the Official Journal,” the EC statement added.

The application was approved following discussions between Swiss and French representatives.

“As a result of these consultations it appeared necessary to indicate the country of origin, in this case France, on the label in the same field of vision as the name ‘Gruyere’, in letters of the same size as those of the name,” said a document outlining the EC ruling.

“In addition, the use of any flags, emblems, signs or other graphic representations on the labels should be prohibited if it might mislead consumers, in particular as regards the characteristics, origin or provenance of the products,” it added.

Geographical objections

A number of objections were submitted concerned non-compliance with Article 2 of Regulation (EC) No 510/2006 – particularly in regards to the fact the word ‘Gruyere’ does not refer to a geographical area of France.

The objectors also claimed that registration of the name ‘Gruyere’ would be contrary to Article 3(3) of the regulation.

Article 3(3) states that a “name wholly or partially homonymous with that of a name already registered under this Regulation shall be registered with due regard for local and traditional usage and the actual risk of confusion.”

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