The European Commission has rejected an American initiative calling for the unfettered use of what are currently protected food and drink monikers, such as Parmesan and port. In the commission's view, the campaign is essentially an attempt to "free ride" on the coat tails of European culinary traditions.
The initiative is led by the Consortium for Common Food Names, which believes food and wine producers should have the right to use generic names. “At least as much feta and Parmesan cheese are made outside the EU as within it," the consortium claims. "Production of provolone is more than 15 times greater," it adds. "Arguing that a small group of E.U. producers should have an exclusive right to use such names is like claiming that only Italians should be permitted to use the term ‘pizza.'”
However, Roger Waite, the European Commission’s spokesman for agriculture and rural development, says the campaigners are wrong. “Feta was registered as a geographical indication in the E.U., further to evidence provided that more than half of the E.U. population considered 'feta' to be a Greek product."
European companies which had challenged this registration on the grounds that feta had become a generic name, were "marketing their product with labels showing Greek temples and using the blue and white colours of the Greek flag – thereby misleading the consumer," says Waite.
The Consortium for Common Food Names does not only concern itself with cheese. It also argues that "bologna" should not be limited to sausage made in Bologna, and that all winemakers outside the E.U. should be able to label their wines with terms such as port, tokay and sherry. It claims that there are now 290 protected terms, “and each year the list grows larger."
But Waite points out that the E.U. also gives protection to American products.
“The European Union’s policy on geographical indications wants to safeguard distinction of quality food and drink products in the E.U. and abroad," he explains. "Therefore, the famous name ‘Napa Valley’ is registered as a geographical indication in Europe, a market of 500 million consumers.”
He notes that as a result of a worldwide agreement – the TRIPS Agreement – it is illegal to describe a wine as "Bourgogne," and "it should also be illegal to mislead consumers by labeling wines with the translation 'Burgundy' or weasel words like 'Bourgogne-type.'"
"While everyone should have the right to use common names, everyone should also have the right to expect truthful labeling and product information, and not be misled by false labeling claims, explicit or implicit," Waite concludes.