The US-headquartered group says it is an international initiative that seeks to stop efforts – including those of the European Union – to restrict the use of food names that have entered into common usage. It says it is not opposed to geographical indications (GI) for foods such as Clare Island salmon from Ireland or brie de meaux and camembert de Normandie cheeses from France. Such status gives legal protection that works somewhat like a trademark to prevent imitation of geographically unique products.
However, members of the consortium fear that expansion of GI protections could lead to burdensome and expensive restrictions and relabeling requirements for producers of certain cheeses or meats in particular.
“At least as much feta and parmesan cheese are made outside Europe as within it,” said Errico Auricchio, chairman of the consortium and president of Wisconsin-based BelGioioso Cheese. “Production of provolone is more than 15 times greater outside Europe.”
The US Dairy Export Council claims that restriction of the use of common names such as parmesan and feta could affect companies producing about $4.2bn worth of cheeses in the United States alone.
The initiative’s executive director, and senior vice president of trade policy at the US Dairy Export Council, Jaime Castaneda said: “No one country or entity should own common food names. If such efforts are successful, consumers will no longer recognize many of their favorite foods. Producers around the world will be forced to consider relabeling potentially billions of dollars’ worth of food products.”
The new initiative has been set up as the European Commission has said it is seeking greater protection for products with geographical indications.
According to its website, “Wider protection for Geographical Indications from around the world is a key goal for the EU in the ongoing WTO Doha Round of world trade negotiations.”
Auricchio said: “The European Commission is quietly making inroads in this area, so the new consortium intends to shine a spotlight on this activity, and we encourage others to join the effort at this critical time.”
No one from the European Commission responded to a request for comment prior to publication.
A list of all European geographic indications, including pending applications, is available online.