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New Consortium Seeks to Protect the International Right to Use Common Food Names

October 6, 2012

New Consortium Seeks to Protect the International Right to Use Common Food Names

A number of food producers and dairy organizations have launched the Consortium for Common Food Names, an international initiative that seeks to stop efforts to restrict the use of generic food names, including such efforts by the European Commission.

The new consortium opposes any attempt to monopolize generic names that have become part of the public domain, such as parmesan, feta, provolone, bologna, salami and many others, as well as terms used by winemakers such as “classic”, “vintage”, “fine” and “superior”. The consortium will seek to foster the adoption of an appropriate model that protects legitimate GIs like “Parmigiano Reggiano” while preserving the right of all producers to use common names like “parmesan”.

The consortium is not opposed to proper geographical indications (GIs), like “Camembert de Normandie” and “Brie de Meaux” cheeses from France, and “Clare Island Salmon” from Ireland. For some specialized products such as these, made in a specific region, it has made sense for the European Commission (EC) to protect the regional name to help preserve the unique nature of that product. In fact, products from other parts of the world – such as Washington State Apples, Idaho Potatoes, Valle de Colchagua wine from Chile, or Thai Jasmine Rice – may also benefit from similar protection. The consortium supports these types of terms as a tool to promote distinctive products.

“No one country or entity should own common food names,” said Jaime Castaneda, executive director of the new initiative, and senior vice president of trade policy at the U.S. Dairy Export Council. “If such efforts are successful, consumers will no longer recognize many of their favorite foods. Producers around the world will be forced to consider relabeling potentially billions of dollars’ worth of food products.

Many well-known foods trace their origins to Europe, but thanks to decades of trade and the emigration of individual food artisans, these products are now made and enjoyed throughout the world. Over time, this has greatly increased the popularity of European varietals like parmesan and salami, to the commercial benefit of European and non-European producers and consumers alike.

The consortium will work to inform consumer groups, farmer associations, manufacturers, and agricultural, trade and intellectual property officials of the damage that will be caused in their own countries if efforts to restrict the use of common food names go unchecked. It will also work with these groups to protect common food names in domestic regulations and international agreements. Importantly, it will work to develop a clear and reasonable scope of protection for GIs by working with leaders in agriculture, trade and intellectual property rights; and foster adoption of high-standard and model GI guidelines throughout the world.

The Consortium will be holding a reception on April 12th in Milwaukee, WI after the International Cheese Technology Exposition in order to provide the opportunity for anyone interested to learn more about this initiative. The reception will be held at 4:00 – 5:00 pm in the Oak Room of the Hilton Milwaukee City Center Hotel. NMPF members, press and others interested in the consortium are welcome to attend.