WASHINGTON, June 20, 2012 -The European Commission’s agriculture and rural development directorate, the EU equivalent of a country’s agriculture ministry, has fired off an unusual rebuttal to a new U.S. industry-led group that hopes to put a brake on EU claims to exclusive use of many popular food names.
The EU statement suggests that the Consortium for Common Food Names – made up of U.S. dairy and meat trade groups, the American Farm Bureau Federation and dairy associations in Argentina and Costa Rica – has won EU attention with its public relations campaign.
But many of the consortium’s assumptions about the EU’s use of geographical indications (GIs) for food products “are incorrect and misrepresent the reality,” the EU said. It claims that many traditional food and drink products in Europe “have a well-respected international reputation precisely because of their very distinctive origin” that deserves protection against imitation.
The EU says World Trade Organization agreements uphold its position that food names necessarily have become generic through long use and can not be restricted to one place of origin. As an example, it said that Greece’s feta cheese won GI protection in Europe after evidence showed that more than half of the EU population considered it a Greek product. European companies which challenged the registration on the ground that feta had become generic were marketing their products with labels showing Greek temples and the colors of the Greek flag, suggesting Greek origin and thereby misleading the consumer, the EU argued.
The consortium “appears to advocate ‘free riding’ on the reputation of European culinary heritage foods,” it added. It challenged the consortium’s suggestion that GI protection would lead to elimination of registered trademarks. EU legislation “recognizes the rights of trademarks registered in good faith before the protection of a geographical indication,” it said.
As “Napa Valley” is protected in the EU with a GI registration, “the EU advocates and expects equal protection to be given to ‘Gorgonzola’ cheese or ‘Queso Manchego’ in the United States and elsewhere in the world,” it added. The statement dismissed a suggestion by the consortium that names long considered generic such as “mozzarella,” “brie” or “cheddar” could not be used by other countries. Those names are not protected as GIs in the EU, it added.
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