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Would Feta, with Another Name, Sell the Same?

April 4, 2014

What’s in a name? Plenty when it comes to parmesan, feta and muenster, and the European Union wants to ban their use by U.S. dairy interests.

In a thinly veiled protectionist gambit, the Europeans argue that American versions of these cheeses aren’t the real thing. They say, for example, parmesan can only come from Parma, Italy, and feta can only come from Greece.

So in mid-March, a majority of the Senate asked the U.S. government to fight back. In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, the lawmakers said the E.U. cannot be allowed to use a pending free trade agreement to claim cheese names used in this country for decades are “geographic indicators” that only apply to products made in Europe.

The letter, spearheaded by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), urged the U.S. negotiators to reject any proposal in the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that would “restrict in any way the ability of U.S. producers to use common cheese names.”

NMPF and the U.S. Dairy Export Council applauded the bipartisan letter, which comes at a crucial time in negotiations over the Trans-Atlantic trade agreement.

“Over the past five years, U.S. cheese exports have been growing by an average of 40 percent annually, leading to a record $1.4 billion in sales last year,” said NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern. “The United States has become the largest single-country cheese exporter in the world. So it’s vital that unfounded barriers to trade not hinder our growth.”