A cheese by any other name

Monday, 27 December, 2004


Sheep's milk cheese in brine may not sound very appetising, but according to an ANU researcher this is how Australian feta cheese makers could be forced to label their produce, if the European Union pushes new rules through the World Trade Organisation.

Law researcher Michael Handler says the proposed rules are designed to give European food producers exclusive rights to certain names that indicate that their food was produced in particular geographic areas, including 'feta' from Greece and 'parmesan' cheese from Parma in Italy.

"First they took away our champagne and our burgundy, now the Europeans want to take away our feta, parmesan and our parma ham," Handler said.

"If the EU is successful in the World Trade Organisation, the landscape of every supermarket in the country is going to have to change. Australian feta and parmesan cheeses will disappear. Only producers from specific European regions will be entitled to use the names of those regions in describing their foods.

"Only those producers in a small region of northern Italy will be allowed to use the name 'parma ham', Australians will have to find other ways of naming such goods. They won't even be able to use terms like 'parma-style ham'.

Not only could Australian consumers potentially be confronted with a range of familiar foods relaunched with unappetising literal descriptions on their labels - the move also poses a considerable threat to Australian exports.

"If Australian dairy and meat producers are forced to stop using names such as parmesan, feta, mortadella bologna and parma ham to describe their goods, they would incur significant costs in relabelling, repackaging and remarketing their goods and re-educating consumers.

Mr Handler said that literal descriptions such as 'sheep's milk cheese in brine' instead of feta, 'milk curd with blue fungus' instead of gorgonzola or 'year-old salted hog' instead of prosciutto di parma would put Australian producers at a significant trade disadvantage.

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