CCFN Welcomes European Commission’s Clarification on Generic Terms and Geographical Indications

CCFN Welcomes European Commission’s Clarification on Generic Terms and Geographical Indications

The Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) is encouraged by clarification made by the European Commission (EC) in a recent statement that the terms "mozzarella," "brie", "gouda", "edam" and "cheddar" are indeed generic, and will not be confiscated solely for the use by certain European producers – a fate that other widely used cheese names such as feta and parmesan have already suffered in the European Union (EU). This clarity is a welcome development for producers of these products around the world.

”CCFNHowever, that clarification is just the tip of the iceberg on what CCFN believes is needed from the EC. The CCFN hopes that the EC will extend that reasonable assessment to other generic names as well such as “havarti”, “parmesan”, “prosciutto”, “provolone”, “salami” and to commonly used adjectives such as “fine” and “vintage” on wine labels.

“One of the problems with the EC system is its arbitrariness,” said CCFN Executive Director Jaime Castaneda. “Unless the system explicitly designates a term as generic, we have to assume the scope of protection is extremely broad.

“It is time to develop a clear and reasonable scope of protection for geographical indications, something we believe the CCFN, the EU and others can all work on together,” he added. “Our goal is to work with leaders worldwide in agriculture, trade and intellectual property rights, and to foster adoption of high-standard and model geographical indication guidelines throughout the world.”

The CCFN agrees with the EC that there is a place for protection of distinctive foods from distinct regions, such as Napa Valley wines or Camembert de Normandie cheese from France. One aspect of a logical model for geographical indications is that they include the name of the region or sub-region where the product is produced.

The EC itself recently provided a good example of the proper approach. When the EU registered “Edam Holland” and “Gouda Holland” as geographical indications, the official decision made clear that the protection applied to the full compound term, and that producers outside of the protected region could continue to use the common names “edam” and “gouda.” This approach allowed the Netherlands to successfully register these two important geographical indications while preserving the rights of producers worldwide to continue using the generic names in good faith, thereby avoiding negative trade impacts. CCFN believes that “feta” should have been protected in a similar fashion, as
“Greek Feta”. Adoption of this model is logical and respects the rights of both the GI holder and other producers of the product, thereby creating a win-win outcome for all involved.

But the EC has pushed the bounds of geographical indication protections to unreasonable levels, Castaneda said. For example, because of the EC’s aggressive efforts in its free trade agreement with Korea, world suppliers — including those from developing countries, will no longer be able to sell “asiago”, “feta”, “fontina” or “gorgonzola” in Korea — at least not under those names.

“No one country or entity should own common food names,” said Errico Auricchio, CCFN chairman and president of BelGioioso Cheese. “If such efforts are successful, consumers will no longer recognize many of their favorite foods. Producers around the world will be forced to consider relabeling potentially billions of dollars’ worth of food products.”

The EC is also working with a number of countries around the world to strongly encourage development of geographical indication systems or outcomes on particular product names that align with EU views. These countries include Canada, China, and Japan, as well as many throughout Latin America and Asia. In a particularly alarming development, the EU is also processing applications to provide geographical indication protection to two cheese names common in large parts of the world (danbo and havarti) that have long had standards that were developed by the Codex Alimentarius, one of the leading international standards setting bodies.

Actions that limit the use of generic names may protect a few food producers, but will do more harm than good to growth in the marketplace, and needlessly confuse consumers who are used to choosing these popular products by their common names.

“Italian, Swiss and Danish immigrants brought to our land their knowledge, traditions and names of food products,” said Miguel Paulón, president of the Argentine Dairy Industry Federation, which supports the CCFN’s efforts. “Many of the cheese names we use have become protected geographical indications in Europe, despite the fact that these names were established here for more than a century as generic names, or have become part of trademarks that identify local producers. Moreover, several of those terms were also adopted many years ago by the international food standards Codex program.”

See the Consortium for Common Food Names’ website for more on CCFN’s positions regarding specific issues at stake in the discussion of common names.