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Dairy’s Success Comes in Many Varieties

February 1, 2022

Just as when sampling a top-quality cheese, success in creating a great policy environment usually comes one small bite at a time. NMPF and its members have had an opportunity in the past month to savor several recent gains for our members that create more certainty and more opportunity for cheese producers and dairy employers.

First, the cheese.

A judicial ruling announced Jan. 6 determined that “gruyere” is a generic style of cheese that can come from anywhere. The decision reaffirms that all cheesemakers, not just those in France or Switzerland, can continue to create and market cheese under this common name.

The fight centered around the European Union’s attempt to turn gruyere cheese into “Gruyere” by filing for trademark protection of the name in the United States for regional French and Swiss products. NMPF, the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), and a coalition of other dairy stakeholders fought the attempt from the start. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decided against the EU in August 2020; the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia upheld that decision in its January ruling.

It’s important to note that dairy’s win is everyone’s win. The landmark victory sets an important precedent in the larger battle over food names, giving U.S. agriculture greater legal support against the EU against efforts to monopolize common names such as gruyere, parmesan, bologna or chateau. We emphatically agree with the court’s statement that the arguments of the French and Swiss associations were “insufficient and unconvincing,” while CCFN, which works closely with NMPF, presented “overwhelming evidence that cheese purchasers in the United States understand the term GRUYERE to be a generic term which refers to a type of cheese without restriction as to where that cheese is produced.”

That victory, following closely on the heels of U.S. dairy’s victory over Canada’s bad-faith use of dairy quotas to limit U.S. market access under the USMCA trade agreement, was a great way to start the new year. It was followed by another gain, this time for dairy employers, via the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Jan. 13 to block the Biden Administration from enforcing a vaccination-or-testing requirement crafted by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

To be sure, the decision wasn’t a denial of the value of a vaccinated workforce, which NMPF has urged in the past and continues to advocate. It was, however, a welcome acknowledgement that OSHA’s broad requirement overstepped its authority. And at a time when COVID tests are scarce and supply chain snarls are leaving some grocery shelves empty, the mandate also simply wasn’t practical.

NMPF had been working with other agricultural organizations and speaking with administration officials since before the Emergency Temporary Standard was first proposed, advocating for dairy’s interests and sharing member concerns. NMPF and several members of the National Council on Farmer Cooperatives first met with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in October — more than two weeks before the rule was released — to raise numerous concerns about the mandate.

After the ETS was released, NMPF warned federal officials in letters and personal meetings that lack of testing and other resources could create hardships for businesses already struggling with staffing shortages and that food and agriculture businesses could face severe supply chain disruptions under the mandate.

The court win, of course, doesn’t end the need for effective workplace strategies to mitigate COVID disruptions. NMPF has joined other organizations in urging that the food and agriculture sector, as an essential part of the U.S. economy, be prioritized in federal coronavirus-testing efforts. And NMPF has resources for employers on its coronavirus webpage.

And it’s also true that one favorable court ruling doesn’t end the long fight against the EU’s attempted use of cheese names to promote protectionism. The Swiss have already appealed the decision, and battles over gruyere and other common cheese names will undoubtedly continue.

But the victories underscore that progress is possible, and that dairy can advance on the policy front with unity and purpose. With more challenges on the horizon, it’s important to remember the sweet taste of progress — or in the case of gruyere cheese, the rich, creamy, nutty and salty taste of progress. The year is shaping up to be an exciting one. We look forward to advancing our members’ interests on many fronts, with as wide a variety as the quality products our industry produces.