European Court Upholds Protected Designation for Parmesan Cheese

The latest round in the battle over which cheeses may be called Parmesan in the European Union went to the Italian cheese producers last week, but the German cheese producers aren't down and out yet. While the European Court of Justice ruled that only producers in the Italian regions of Parma and Reggio Emilia are permitted to use the term Parmigiano Reggiano and related derivatives, the court said it was up to German national courts to enforce the rule.

A group of Italian cheese makers, the Consortium of Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, had brought the case to the European court, noting that Parmigiano Reggiano has been registered as a protected designation of origin in the European Union since 1996. German cheese producers, however, believe Parmesan is a generic term, so they continue to make and sell their own varieties. As a result, Germany has become Europe's second-largest producer of Parmesan cheese.

Although the ruling has no effect on cheese sold by companies outside of the EU, because they are not subject to EU regulations, other countries are concerned with the court's attempt to impose restrictive designations.

"We are disappointed with this decision," said Helen Medina, IDFA assistant director of international affairs. "Parmesan is a generic cheese that is manufactured all over the world and traded internationally in large quantities. We will continue to oppose any EU efforts to expand their geographic indication system into the World Trade Organization Doha Round discussions and into the Codex cheese standards."

The European Union's geographic indication system follows three classifications of cheese. The protected designation of origin covers products that are produced, processed and prepared within a specific geographical area, and have specific features and characteristics that are restricted to the geographical area. The protected geographical indication represents products that must be produced, processed or prepared within the geographical area, and have a reputation, features or certain qualities that are only attributable to that area. The traditional specialty guaranteed classification covers products that are traditional or have traditional names, and have a set of features that distinguishes them from other similar products.

Italy has about 500 certified Parmesan producers who follow an 800-year-old process to make the cheese in regions near the cities of Parma and Reggio Emilia. The Italian consortium currently has one case pending against one of Germany's largest cheese makers in a Berlin court, but no decision has been issued there.



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Posted March 10, 2008