EU in a stink over trademark blue: Will the cheese war hit our shores?

In a bid to protect its cheese market the European Union is urging the United States to ban cheese names that refer to European regions, Time reports.

The EU and US are currently engaged in trade talks, and the proposal could see names such as feta, parmesan, gorgonzola and others rebranded on American products.

Europe is arguing cheeses such as parmesan should only come from Parma in Italy, and cheese labelled feta should only come from Greece.

The proposal has been seen as a way for Europe to not only protect its cheese industry, but gain an advantage in international markets.

Jane Owen, a partner at K&L Gates, says the issue revolves around what is called an “appellation of origin”.

“It means a particular region has a reputation for a product, like Parma in Italy,” she told SmartCompany.

“So it’s sort of like a pseudo-trademark. Other traders are not entitled to use that appellation unless they sell products that emanate from that region. The rationale is to ensure the integrity of the products.”

Owen says a prime example is the classification of wine. In most parts of the world, wine can only be labelled ‘Champagne’ if the grapes are grown in the region of France with the same name.

In 2007, Victoria and Western Australia signed the Napa Declaration to Protect Wine Place and Origin – a document which aims to protect the names of wine based on their origin.

Owen says while she is not aware of any current lobbying for cheese, she would not be surprised if the issue of cheese names is raised in Australia.

“We obviously have a particular statute around wine and champagne that does respect appellations of origin. And I think there will be increasing pressure.”

However, Owen also stresses that it would be difficult to enforce name changes for cheese in a similar way to wine.

“For example, cheddar is now a term that can be applied to any type of cheese rather than ones that come from Cheddar in the UK. It’s a little harder than wine, which has been much more distinctive and protected.”

According to a 2013 IBISWorld report, the Australian cheese manufacturing industry brings in $4 billion in revenue and employs over 4000 people.

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