NMPF Testifies on Common Names

NMPF Executive Vice President for Policy Development & Strategy Jaime Castaneda testified on the need for greater action from the U.S. government to proactively negotiate common names protections with trading partners, during a Feb. 21 hearing hosted by the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) office.

The hearing highlighted the agency’s annual Special 301 process, which seeks to identify intellectual property trade abuses around the world and set up USTR’s IP priorities for the following year.

NMPF and USDEC submitted joint comments in January that complemented a more comprehensive submission from the Consortium for Common Food Names. All three organizations emphasized the urgency of the issue and highlighted the damage done to American cheesemakers when they are not allowed to use the generic terms that consumers have known and loved for generations.

Cheese-Name Fight Vital for Industry

What’s in a name? Quite a lot. In dairy, a name defines a taste and experience. And that’s why European Union attempts to monopolize commonly understood cheese names poses a problem for consumers and cheese companies, as John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association in Madison explains in the latest Dairy Defined Podcast.

“Our dairy farmers here in Wisconsin and other states, we can’t go to Europe and sell a Parmesan cheese. We can’t go to Europe and sell a cheese called feta,” he said. “It’s infuriating because those names are used worldwide and the cheeses are produced worldwide. But the EU has put up walls.”

Umhoefer, joined by NMPF Senior Vice President for Trade Policy Shawna Morris, also discusses recent legal victories and a congressional effort to help U.S. producers stifle EU attempts to use cheese names as a trade barrier. The full podcast is here. You can also find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts. Broadcast outlets may use the MP3 file below. Please attribute information to NMPF.

Bipartisan Group of Members of Congress Introduce Legislation to Strengthen Common Name Protection in Upcoming Farm Bill

A coalition of American agricultural organizations hail introduction of legislation to proactively establish protections for foods and beverages using common terms in export markets.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) and allied organizations commend today’s introduction of the Safeguarding American Value-Added Exports (SAVE) Act to promote the protection of common names in the 2023 Farm Bill. Led in the Senate by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Tina Smith (D-MN) and led in the House by Representatives Dusty Johnson (R-SD), Jim Costa (D-CA), Michelle Fischbach (R-MN) and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), the language would explicitly direct USDA Foreign Agricultural Services (FAS) to work with the U.S. Trade Representative to include the protection of commonly used terms like “parmesan”, “chateau” and “bologna” as a priority in international negotiations. This is the first farm bill effort on common names.

“The lack of strong action by previous administrations has allowed the European Union to misuse and abuse its geographical indications, hurting U.S. exporters in several markets,” said Jaime Castaneda, Executive Director of CCFN. “This new emphasis on protecting common names is a much-needed step in the right direction to ensure that our producers can sell their products in markets around the world.”

The proposed language would amend the Agricultural Trade Act of 1978 to define “common names” and direct the Secretary of Agriculture to coordinate with the U.S. Trade Representative to proactively defend the right to use common names for agricultural commodities or food products in international markets.

“For years, the European Union has been using illegitimate GIs to boost its own producers at the expense of others, putting a tremendous political priority on giving European companies a leg up over producers in the U.S. and other countries,” noted Castaneda. “It is time that our government takes a more proactive approach to tackling this challenge so that we can turn the tide to stand up for food and beverage producers relying on common names.”

  • Many agricultural producers in the United States and around the world depend on common food and beverage terms – such as parmesan, chateau, or bologna – to market and sell their products.
  • Since 2009, the EU has used trade negotiations and intellectual property rules to confiscate common names for their own producers – essentially monopolizing certain products in specific markets.
  • For American farmers and producers, this leads to lost opportunities overseas and expensive fights domestically, in addition to fewer choices for consumers.
  • Recently, there has been significant efforts from the private sector to defend common names, including a favorable U.S. Court of Appeals ruling and actions by congressional champions on Capitol Hill.

USTR Report Emphasizes Importance of Preserving Common Food Names

NMPF’s efforts to protect the rights of dairy producers to use common names such as parmesan or feta were supported by the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) office in its April 26 report on international challenges to intellectual property rights.

In its annual Special 301 Intellectual Property Report, USTR highlighted several policy concerns that NMPF and USDEC raised in joint comments filed on Jan. 30, as well as in a separate filing by the Consortium for Common Names (CCFN), which NMPF’s trade policy team staffs.

The report describes in detail the European Union’s ongoing campaign to abuse and misuse geographical indication (GI) rules to confiscate generic food and beverage terms and prevent U.S. producers from selling certain common name foods in specific markets:

The EU GI system and strategy “adversely impact access for U.S. and other producers in the EU market and other markets by granting protection to terms that are considered in those markets to be the common name for products,” the report stated.  “The EU has granted GI protection to thousands of terms that now only certain EU producers can use in the EU market, and many of these producers then block the use of any term that even ‘evokes’ a GI.

“As part of its trade agreement negotiations, the EU pressures trading partners to prevent any producer, except from those in certain EU regions, from using certain product names, such as fontina, gorgonzola, parmesan, asiago, or feta. This is despite the fact that these terms are the common names for products produced in countries around the world.”

NMPF will continue to engage USTR and the rest of the administration to turn these concerns into concrete actions. The U.S. government has a full suite of tools at its disposal, including existing free trade agreements and upcoming trade negotiations, to establish firm and lasting market access protections with U.S. trading partners around the world.

Court of Appeals Extends Huge Victory for Worldwide Producers of “Gruyere”

Today, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), and a coalition of other dairy stakeholders prevailed in their ongoing battle to protect the right of producers to use generic names in the U.S. market.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the prior decisions of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in finding “gruyere” to be a generic term for a variety of cheese. The Fourth Circuit’s clear decision should put an end to the attempt by Swiss and French consortiums to expropriate a common food name through a U.S. certification mark registration.

The Fourth Circuit found that the evidence “is ‘so one-sided’ that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and Opposers must prevail as a matter of law. “ The Court reasoned that the “the common usage of gruyere ‘establish[es] that when purchasers walk into retail stores and ask for [gruyere], they regularly mean’ a type of cheese, and not a cheese that was produced in the Gruyère region of Switzerland and France.“  The Fourth Circuit concluded that “the Consortiums cannot overcome what the record makes clear:  cheese consumers in the United States understand ‘GRUYERE’ to refer to a type of cheese, which renders the term generic.”

For over a decade, well-resourced European interests have attempted to confiscate common names to prevent non-European producers from using long-established generic terms, essentially monopolizing the ability to produce certain products for producers in limited and specific regions.

This decision reinforces that generic terms like “gruyere” refer to types of food, and a method of production regardless of where they are produced.

“The United States remains a bastion for the defense of consumers’ and producers’ property rights that have been trampled in Europe and many countries around the world,” said Jaime Castaneda, executive director for CCFN. “The court has sent a clear message that European attempts to stop American producers from using generic food names in the U.S. will be firmly rejected. It is a momentous victory for American consumers, farmers and food manufacturers.”

Capitol Hill Event Adds Momentum as Consortium Keeps Busy Pace

The Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) – an organization staffed by the NMPF trade policy team – joined Agri-Pulse in hosting a bipartisan congressional event at the U.S. Capitol to highlight the need for heightened U.S. government efforts to protect generic food and beverage terms. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS), Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE) and Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) shared remarks at the March 1 event on the need for a robust U.S. strategy to counter the European Union’s (EU) aggressive campaign of misusing their geographical indications system to monopolize common terms like “parmesan” and “feta” for their own use.

The hybrid virtual event also featured speakers from Sartori, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, USA Rice, The Wine Institute and the North American Meat Institute. Participants highlighted that American dairy farmers and other food and beverage producers continue to lose market share overseas and face costly trademark registration battles domestically just to continuing selling their products that consumers recognize as generic.

The lawmakers and industry representatives called on the Biden Administration to take action to establish firm and clear protections for commonly used food and beverage terms to safeguard U.S. export markets. NMPF and CCFN continue to work with the U.S. Trade Representative and USDA to identify avenues of advancing a proactive U.S. strategy to protect the rights of common name food and beverage producers throughout the United States.

In addition to its March 1 event, NMPF remained active on the issue of geographic indications and the importance of allowing common cheese names in February, holding a session with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Feb. 21 for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) governments on the importance of preserving common names.

NMPF’s Jaime Castaneda, acting in his capacity as CCFN’s Executive Director, provided remarks to the APEC session attendees to underscore the negative impacts on trade and local producers when common names are restricted. CCFN members and experts rounded out the event’s speakers.

The event followed efforts on behalf of common names earlier in the year, with NMPF, in partnership with USDEC, submitting comments to USTR on Jan. 30, emphasizing its support for firm and explicit commitments assuring the future use of specific common names. The comments were in response to USTR’s request for input on its annual Special 301 review of intellectual property trade issues and supported more comprehensive comments made by the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN).

The European Union’s decade-long efforts to monopolize common names – like “parmesan” and “feta” – for its own producers has created a deeply one-sided playing field, restricting American producers’ ability to market and sell their products overseas. In its comments, NMPF implored the Administration to secure guarantees from trading partners that they will not abuse geographical indication rules to restrict the use of common food and beverage names.

USTR Amplifies NMPF Concerns on Common Cheese Names in Key Report

NMPF push for U.S. action to address the EU’s campaign to claim exclusive rights to use common food names like “parmesan” and “feta” were highlighted in by the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) office in an April 27 report on intellectual property impediments around the world.

USTR included in its annual Special 301 Intellectual Property Report  numerous policy concerns raised in January in a joint filing by NMPF and USDEC and also detailed in a separate filing by the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), which NMPF’s trade policy team staffs.

Echoing alarms raised by NMPF, USDEC and CCFN, the USTR report outlined global challenges on intellectual property issues, describing in detail the European Union’s (EU) campaign to eliminate competition in the global marketplace by restricting the use of common food and beverage terms.

“As part of its trade agreement negotiations, the EU pressures trading partners to prevent any producer, except those in certain EU regions, from using certain product names, such as fontina, gorgonzola, parmesan, asiago, or feta,” USTR’s report noted “This is despite the fact that these terms are the common names for products produced in countries around the world.”

While NMPF appreciates the accurate diagnosis of the EU’s deliberate global strategy, the organization is asking the administration to develop a proactive common food name strategy to counter EU efforts. The government has a broad range of tools at its disposal, including Free Trade Agreements, the upcoming Indo-Pacific Economic Framework negotiations and Trade and Investment Framework Agreements, which should be used to establish concrete market access protections with U.S. trading partners around the world.

Work Continues to Fight EU Cheese Name Monopoly Tactics

As a part of NMPF’s continued fight to preserve U.S. dairy companies’ rights to use common food names like “parmesan” and “feta,” NMPF highlighted for the U.S. government examples of continued European Union abuse of geographical indicators (GIs) to seize market share in third-country markets. NMPF provided several examples of GI misuse in Jan. 31 comments for USTR’s Annual Special 301 Report on intellectual property issues. The comments pointed to a more detailed filing from the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), the independent, international organization staffed by NMPF’s trade policy team.

The CCFN comments urged the administration to fight the EU’s name monopolization effort by securing “firm and explicit commitments assuring the future use of specific generic food and beverage terms” from U.S. trade partners. This approach has strong bipartisan support in Congress – in letters NMPF and CCFN spearheaded in 2020, over 160 Senators and Representatives called for a proactive approach to common name protections to foster a more equal playing field for American-made products in international markets.