Switzerland, EU avert food wars with deal on names
Switzerland and the European Union have agreed to mutually recognise the names of several hundred foodstuffs to avoid trade wars over produce such as Gruyere cheeses, Swiss officials said Monday.
The deal, which now has to be ratified by both sides, covers 22 Swiss products including Gruyere and Vacherin Fribourgeois cheeses, and some 800 products from the 27-nation EU bloc such as Roquefort cheese and Parma ham.
Such names, which often denote the area in which the foods are produced, are highly coveted by producers as an international marketing asset and seal of authenticity.
Swiss agriculture ministry spokesman Juerg Jordi told AFP that the two sides had "finalised" an agreement over officially protected names of origin, commonly identified with "AOC" on product labels or the lesser protected geographical indicators (IGP).
Over the weekend it emerged that the EU had granted Europe-wide protection for Gruyere cheese from Switzerland, sidelining a 2007 bid by French producers of cheeses of the same name.
Switzerland exports 13,000 of its annual 29,000 tonnes output of Gruyere -- more than half of it to France -- which has been produced since the Middle Ages in an area around the eponymous village in western Switzerland.
French Gruyere cheese was produced widely around France before being focused in areas close the Swiss border.
It has a "sweeter taste due to the holes," compared to the tangy Swiss cheese which has no holes, noted Philippe Bardet of the Gruyere producer's association in Switzerland.
French Gruyere producers on Monday played down the EU's decision, calling it a "non event" and denying that the two countries had been warring over the issue.
French producer's head Bernard Cassard said the name could still be used by farmers on each side of the frontier under the deal.
France and Switzerland still have to settle a similar problem with Emmental cheese, although they agreed to hold more negotiations in the future, said Isabelle Pache, a legal expert at the Swiss agriculture ministry.
© 2010 AFP