Geographical Indications

Common Food Names Under Attack

Consumers frequently rely on common food names, such as parmesan or feta, when deciding what to buy for their families and favorite recipes. American companies have used these common food names for decades to market products in the United States and abroad, but their right to use them is under attack. The European Union is aggressively working to expand rules that identify products by where they are made – known as geographical indications (GIs) – and block the use of many common food names. These actions are eroding U.S. export sales and closing off opportunities in key global markets.

IDFA Keeps GIs in Talks

The EU’s agenda to expand GIs, especially through bilateral trade agreements, is a growing threat to cheesemakers in America and around the world. New EU pacts with Japan and Mexico, for example, restrict several common cheese names, and now U.S. exporters can’t sell cheeses named parmesan, feta or asiago in these countries. Equal market access is imperative for the U.S. dairy industry, and IDFA is making sure that GIs and common food names remain at the forefront of all U.S. trade talks.

“Countries that are signing bilateral trade agreements with the European Union have been granting protection for several generic cheese names used in the United States. Those agreements hurt U.S. cheese companies as well as the dairy farmers that supply the milk. Names like feta and parmesan belong to everyone, not just a small group of producers in Europe. The EU’s bid to gain exclusive rights to these names is totally unjustified, and we look forward to continuing to work with the U.S. Trade Representative on this issue.”

Michael Dykes, D.V.M., IDFA President and CEO

Legitimate or Overreach?

U.S. trademark law recognizes legitimate GIs that correspond to specific regions of production. These rules ensure that American consumers aren’t misled about the origin of certain products, and IDFA supports them. In the United States, for example, Idaho Potatoes and Washington State Apples are appropriately protected by GIs. But the EU is extending GI protections beyond a small number of specialty foods to cover many food names that have no geographic identity. GIs were never intended to protect generic names, which have been used by food companies and recognized by consumers for decades. 

Common Cheeses Could Disappear

Common cheese names like parmesan, gorgonzola, asiago and feta are a key EU target. Others, such as mozzarella and provolone, are also at risk. These cheeses are made in many countries; they are not associated with any specific areas of Europe. In fact, many non-European varieties with these names have won international competitions. 

Economic Impact

Banning the use of common names would force some companies out of markets they worked for generations to create. The negative economic impact would ripple out to their employees, the farmers and other suppliers, and the communities in which they work.

For details, log in to read highlights of the Informa Economics study, commissioned by the Consortium for Common Food Names: “Assessing the Potential Impact of Geographical Indications for Common Cheeses on the U.S. Dairy Sector”.

A Better Way

If left unchecked, the EU’s efforts to curtail common food names would cost the U.S. dairy industry billions of dollars, slash domestic cheese consumption and increase consumer prices. Consumers want high-quality, tasty cheese at a competitive price. Giving them more opportunity to purchase a wide variety of products, regardless of where they’re produced, will help to expand the global market for all cheesemakers.

IDFA Staff Expert

Becky Rasdall

Vice President, Trade Policy and International Affairs