Monday

18th Feb 2019

Only Greeks can make 'feta', EU court says

Cheese producers from around Europe are reeling at Tuesday's (25 October) European Court of Justice ruling forbidding those outside of Greece from using the name 'feta'.

Europe's highest court first indicated it would rule in favour of Greece back in May to the dismay of German and Danish feta cheese producers, who were suing the European Commission.

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  • Feta can only be produced in Greece (Photo: EUobserver)

In 2002, 'feta' was originally protected by a Commission regulation as a domain of origin and could only be used by cheese producers in certain areas of Greece.

The EU had been using Greek feta as an example of protected origins in trade negotiations with the US and the World Trade Organisation since before it was protected.

The problem with feta

Although feta cheese has been produced all over modern Europe, especially in Germany. Denmark and for more than 20 years by a single producer in Yorkshire, England, the exact history of the cheese is unknown.

Some historians claim the cheese came about in Greece, while others say the name was created by Venetian traders.

Feta is not only a sore spot in the EU’s 25 member states, but also beyond. The cheese has long been produced in Bulgaria and Turkey, some say as an intrinsic part of their culinary cultures, which may prove tricky as accession negotiations with the two countries progress.

One of the main arguments Germany and Denmark used in their case against the commission was that since feta is produced so widely and has been for many years, 'feta' as a name has lost its meaning.

Unlike other protected names, such as Parma ham, which are tied to specific locations, feta is a type rather than a name, they argued.

The European court ruled, however, that it is the grasses grown on certain hills in Greece that milking goats feed upon which gives feta its special characteristics and that these cannot be reproduced elsewhere.

The ruling could have repercussions for other types of cheeses currently considered generic and produced around the world, from cheddar to camembert.

French camembert producers are especially concerned because the majority of France's famous cheese is produced outside of the small Camembert region.

Talking trade

The protection of origin names, which originally began as a way to protect the names of wines and spirits produced in the EU, from Champagne to Porto, has become one of the EU's biggest goals in multilateral trade talks in recent years.

As agricultural production in the EU becomes more expensive and production in developing countries like Brazil becomes cheaper, competing on the world market in agriculture and food products become more difficult.

One way for the EU to compete, however, is with high quality niche products that are most often tied to a specific region that promotes specific characteristics in the product.

Sparkling wine may be produced in California or Australia, but France, and now the EU, claims nothing can be like Champagne.

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