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Are The U.S. And E.U. Headed For A Cheese War?

E.U. negotiators are expected to make cheese names part of a future trade deal, meaning U.S. companies could no longer use the words parmasan or feta.
Posted at 11:04 PM, Mar 11, 2014

America, are you prepared for a cheese war?

U.S. and E.U. officials are meeting in Brussels to discuss the terms of the free trade agreement President Obama proposed during his 2013 State of the Union Address.

"Because trade that is fair and free across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs." (Via Euronews, The White House)

But a report from the Associated Press says E.U. representatives are expected to put cheese on the negotiating table. Figuratively. (Via Wikimedia Commons / JJ Harrison, Dominik HundhammerJon Sullivan)

"The E.U. wants to ban the use of names like parmasan, feta and Gruyere on cheeses that are made in America." (Via NECN)

"They argue that only cheese from Parma should be called parmasan. ... the E.U. claims American-made cheeses are mere imitations and they take market share away from the real McCoys." (Via Al Jazeera)

The E.U. wants the U.S. to honor its geographical indications. Those are kind of like trademarks for products that are named after a location.

In the E.U., feta cheese made outside Greece can't be marketed as feta. Other places can still make it and they can still sell it. They just have to call it something else.

A trade deal last year between the E.U. and Canada imposed the same restrictions. Any new feta product made in Canada has to be marketed as feta-style or feta-like, and can't use Greek columns or lettering on the package.

And it doesn't stop at cheese: Valencia oranges, Greek yogurt — even Bologna! (Via Wikimedia Commons / Cesar MR, ProjectManhattan, Glane23)

U.S. companies aren't happy about the restrictions, saying they'll confuse consumers. The head of the National Milk Producers Federation said "The consequences ... would be higher costs, fewer choices and greater confusion. ... It is American food companies that have helped popularize many cheeses with old world origins, leading to increased sales for all."

The outrage goes all the way to Capitol Hill. A group of 55 U.S. senators sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urging him to "push back" against the new restrictions. (Via U.S. Senate)

It's not clear yet how strongly European negotiators will push for the restrictions. A representative simply said that the issue is an important one for the E.U.