WASHINGTON, July 2, 2014 – The European Union (EU) is set to decide whether to grant Denmark exclusive use of the name “Havarti” within its member states. It’s just the latest attempt by a European state to protect food product names through geographical indication (GI) rules that many, including some in the American dairy industry, believe are too generic to be worthy of the EU version of a trademark.

If the EU grants Denmark the use of “Havarti”, American cheese producers will not be able to sell their products in Europe under that name.

“The name 'Havarti' is not only widely used in many European and non-European countries, but there is also an international product standard for Havarti that is recognized globally by Europe and others,” Jaime Castaneda, executive director of the U.S.-based Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), said in a release. “If a GI for ‘Havarti' is approved, the EU will clearly be overstepping a very significant boundary that threatens the free flow of commerce and harms food producers. It would set a terrible precedent.”

The Codex Alimentarius -- a collection of internationally agreed-to food standard and guidelines -- currently has a listing for Havarti that does not grant exclusive use of the name to Denmark. The listing does, however, require the country of manufacture to be declared on the product packaging.

Rather than allowing Denmark to use “Havarti,” CCFN suggests, the EU should follow recent rulings on products like “Gouda Holland” and “Holsteiner Tilster,” which protect GIs  as complete names. In those examples, CCFN points out, generic cheese names like “gouda” and “tilster” were not granted protected status.

Meanwhile, the EU recently granted “protected destination of origin” (PDO) status to French goat cheese “Charolais,” which is produced around the city of Charolles in the Bourgogne (Burgundy) region of France.

PDO status is meant to cover agricultural products produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area using local knowledge.

GIs are an ongoing issue within Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks between the U.S. and EU. European officials have indicated that protecting product names like “feta”, “mozzarella” and “parmesan” are among their top priorities in the trade negotiations. American cheese and dairy producers, meanwhile, say those terms are too generic to be granted GI status.

In May, Bill Reisch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, told Agri-Pulse in an interview that a GI compromise is possible. “There are middle grounds here,” he said, pointing to exactly the suggestion CCFN has proposed.

“Most of them don’t involve the United States abandoning the name ‘feta,’ for example, or ‘cheddar,’” he said. “[Possible compromises include] putting another adjective in front of it, so it’s ‘Wisconsin cheddar,’ to make clear that not cheddar from England.”


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