Economy & Business
6:00 am
Wed February 12, 2014

EU Wants U.S. Cheese Makers to Stop Using European Names

Feta cheese, along with other foods made in the U.S. with ties to Europe might be called something else in the future
Credit LaToya Dennis

Names such as Gruyere, Brie, Parmesan, Havarti, Feta, Asiago, Gorgonzola and Fontina.

Shawna Morris of the U.S. Dairy Export Council says the European Union does not want cheese makers in other parts of the world using names that originated in Europe. Otherwise, the EU claims, the brands are not authentic.

Morris says the EU began imposing restrictions on cheese branding in the mid-1990s and American companies aren’t the only ones targeted.

“A company in Europe that had been selling significant amounts of Parmesan prior to the Europeans declaring that only Italians could use that name going forward saw their sales significantly dwindle and eventually virtually loss the entire market,” Morris says.

Now Morris says the EU is exporting its branding rules and a few countries are honoring them.

“In Central America, the Costa Ricans have recently declared that the U.S. can no longer sell Parmesan or Provolone to that country,” Morris says.

Morris says restrictions on who can use brand names could have ramifications well beyond cheese. She’ll speak in Madison Wednesday about this very subject.

One group paying close attention is the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. Spokesman Patrick Geoghegan says the dairy industry here has billions of dollars at stake.

“The United States dairy industry has invested over the last 120 years in generic cheese names. We have educated consumers and we have built demand. And now the Europeans see the success that we’ve had, and they want a piece of it,” Geoghengan says.

Geoghegan says if the U.S. agrees to the EU restrictions, cheese makers here will have to invest a lot of money into renaming and rebranding products with European ties.

“If we cannot call Gruyere, Gruyere, we’ll have to call it a alpine style cheese, and no one will know what that is. So that will require us to make a huge investment in education,” Geoghengan says.

Geoghegan insists that while cheese names may have originated in Europe, people there don’t own them. 

Courts could decide differently. The company Chobani recently lost a round. It sells what it calls Greek Yogurt, but a court recently ruled that the Chobani can no longer sell the product under that name in the UK, if the yogurt is made in the United States and not in Greece.