WASHINGTON, July 16, 2015 – Recent changes to an international agreement on intellectual property will unfairly undermine the U.S. dairy industry’s effort to use common food names such as parmesan and feta, say leaders of key congressional committees. 

In a letter to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a United Nations agency, the lawmakers said member countries, including the United States, were insufficiently consulted and that the agreement on geographical indications would improperly expand protections for agricultural product names that should be considered generic.

American dairy producers have long been at odds with the European Union over its farmers' effort through trade agreements to protect the use of various food names. WIPO, which promotes the protection of intellectual property, approved the revisions to the to the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin in May.

Countries that are members of the Lisbon agreement can protect product names sold in other member nations. The countries that are part of the agreement include Greece, Italy, France, Mexico, Peru and Costa Rica and could expand. 

The revisions will have “significant negative ramifications for businesses world-wide that depend on the use of common or generic names or on the integrity of established trademarks,” the lawmakers wrote, adding that countries may implement the treaty in conflict with World Trade Organization rules.

The agency “seriously undermined” its credibility by allowing a limited number of countries to make the revisions to the Lisbon treaty, the letter said.

The letter was signed by the chairmen and ranking Democrats on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees and the House Ways and Means and Judiciary panels.

“WIPO needed to be called out for pushing through an agreement that includes new geographical indications for a wide range of agricultural and non-agricultural products,” said Connie Tipton, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. “The congressional letter does that. We hope WIPO sits up and takes notice.”