Key Issues

Geographic Indications

Geographical Indications (GIs) describe specialized products made in a specific region in a specific manner to protect that product’s unique nature. The European Union (EU) misuses protections meant for proper GIs to monopolize common cheese terms and raise unjustified trade barriers to block dairy exports from outside the bloc. The EU also pursues trade agreements worldwide that prohibit American-made products, including cheese, from using common food names that have been in use for decades.

Without decisive action to build upon intellectual-property progress made to date, the EU will likely continue to raise unfair trade barriers and seek to establish harmful GI policies in negotiations with U.S. dairy’s trading partners. That’s why the practice needs to end.

Our Position

Alongside the Consortium for Common Food Names and U.S. Dairy Export Council, NMPF supports proper GIs that are associated with specialized foods from distinct regions but firmly opposes any attempt to monopolize common cheese names that have become part of the public domain, including parmesan, asiago, gorgonzola and feta.

NMPF urges federal trade officials to secure firm and explicit commitments assuring the future use of specific generic cheese terms targeted by or at risk of EU monopolization efforts.

Key Points

  • Seizing common names that U.S. cheesemakers have used for generations confuses and alienates domestic and international consumers, leading to an unwarranted drop in demand for U.S. cheese.
  • The U.S. is the EU’s top export market for cheese. But because the EU has shut out nearly all U.S. cheeses from its market, the U.S.-EU cheese is deeply imbalanced. And when these unfair policies are then “exported” to other markets via EU free trade agreements, U.S. access to those markets are harmed as well.
  • The U.S. dairy industry could be hit with $9.5 billion to $20-billion in revenue losses if the EU continues to expand its restrictions on the use of generic terms like parmesan, asiago, feta and others, according to a study conducted by Informa Agribusiness Consulting.
  • Gruyere is the perfect example of the EU’s hypocrisy when it comes to GIs. The only town named Gruyere in all of Europe is in Switzerland. Despite this, the French have been producing gruyere for generations. The European Commission maintains that because the French have been producing this product for a long time, they should retain the right to keep making it and force Switzerland to allow the coexistence of both products.

More Information