Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
A package of Kraft parmesan cheese is seen in Washington, Tuesday, March 11, 2014. Looking for American-made parmesan cheese on the grocery aisle? If the European Union gets its way, you may not be able to find it. Also missing could be domestic asiago, feta and gorgonzola. The cheeses would still be there, but their names might be different. As part of free trade talks, the European Union is expected to propose to ban the United States from using certain European cheese names if the cheese is made here. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
Europe wants its Parmesan back, seeks name change
First Published Mar 11 2014 04:16 pm • Last Updated Mar 11 2014 04:16 pm

Washington • Would Parmesan by any other name be as tasty atop your pasta? A ripening trade battle might put that to the test.

As part of trade talks, the European Union wants to ban the use of European names like Parmesan, feta and Gorgonzola on cheese made in the United States.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

The argument is that the American-made cheeses are shadows of the original European varieties and cut into sales and identity of the European cheeses. The Europeans say Parmesan should only come from Parma, Italy, not those familiar green cylinders that American companies sell. Feta should only be from Greece, even though feta isn’t a place. The EU argues it "is so closely connected to Greece as to be identified as an inherently Greek product."

So, a little "hard-grated cheese" for your pasta? It doesn’t have quite the same ring as Parmesan.

U.S. dairy producers, cheesemakers and food companies are all fighting the idea, which they say would hurt the $4 billion domestic cheese industry and endlessly confuse consumers.

"It’s really stunning that the Europeans are trying to claw back products made popular in other countries," says Jim Mulhern, president of the National Milk Producers Federation, which represents U.S. dairy farmers.

The European Union would not say exactly what it is proposing or even whether it will be discussed this week as a new round of talks on an EU-United States free trade agreement opens in Brussels.

European Commission spokesman Roger Waite would only say that the question "is an important issue for the EU."

That’s clear from recent agreements with Canada and Central America, where certain cheese names were restricted unless the cheese came from Europe. Under the Canadian agreement, for example, new feta products manufactured in Canada can only be marketed as feta-like or feta-style, and they can’t use Greek letters or other symbols that evoke Greece.

Though they have not laid out a public proposal, the EU is expected to make similar attempts to restrict marketing of U.S.-made cheeses, possibly including Parmesan, Asiago, Gorgonzola, feta, fontina, grana, Muenster, Neufchatel and Romano.


story continues below
story continues below

And it may not be just cheese. Other products could include bologna, Black Forest ham, Greek yogurt, Valencia oranges and prosciutto, among other foods.

The trade negotiations are important for the EU as Europe has tried to protect its share of agricultural exports and pull itself out of recession. The ability to exclusively sell some of the continent’s most famous and traditional products would prevent others from cutting into those markets.

Concerned about the possible impact of changing the label on those popular foods, a bipartisan group of 55 senators wrote U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week asking them not to agree to any such proposals by the EU.

Led by New York Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., the members wrote that in the states they represent, "many small- or medium-sized, family owned businesses could have their businesses unfairly restricted" and that export businesses could be gravely hurt.

Schumer said artisanal cheese production is a growing industry across New York.

"Muenster is Muenster, no matter how you slice it," he said.

Trevor Kinkaid, a spokesman for the U.S. trade representative, said conversations on the issue are in the early stages but that the U.S. and E.U. have "different points of view" on the topic.

The agency wouldn’t disclose details of the negotiations, but Kinkaid said the U.S. government is "committed to increasing opportunity for U.S. businesses, farmers and workers through trade."

Large food companies that mass-produce the cheeses are also fighting the idea. Kraft, closely identified with its grated Parmesan cheese, says the cheese names have long been considered generic in the United States.

"Such restrictions could not only be costly to food makers, but also potentially confusing for consumers if the labels of their favorite products using these generic names were required to change," says Kraft spokesman Basil Maglaris.

Some producers say they are incensed because it was Europeans who originally brought the cheeses here, and the American companies have made them more popular and profitable in a huge market. Errico Auricchio, president of the Green Bay, Wis., company BelGioioso Cheese Inc., produced cheese with his family in Italy until he brought his trade to the United States in 1979.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.