EU court: Blessed are the cheese-makers

26th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

A landmark ruling allows parmesan cheese to remain from Parma.

Luxembourg/Brussels -- "What's in a name? That which we call Parmigiano by any other name would taste as good."

If William Shakespeare had been writing Italian dramas today, he might well have used that phrase to describe Tuesday's landmark ruling by the European Union's top court that cheese labeled "Parmesan" can only come from Italy's Parma region.

Under the EU's strict laws on Protected Designations of Origin (PDOs) for food, only products which are made in the place where the foods were first created can be sold using the classical name.

For instance, only cheese made in Greece can be marketed as Feta, while only cheese made in the Roquefort area of southwest France can be sold as Roquefort.

And the only hard cheese which can be sold as "Parmigiano Reggiano" -- the Italian word, which gave birth to the English translation "Parmesan" - is that which is made in northeast Italy.

The rules have long been known in Europe, with a string of court cases over the years gradually removing such foodstuffs as "Yorkshire Feta" from the market.

But on Tuesday, after nearly three years of legal wrangling, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the coverage should extend to the English word "Parmesan," -- a name under which Parma-style cheese has been on sale in Germany.

"Given the phonetic and visual similarity between the names in question, and the similar appearance of the products, use of the name 'Parmesan' must be regarded as an evocation of the PDO 'Parmigiano Reggiano,' which is protected by (EU) law," an ECJ statement read.

Italy has the highest number of PDO's of any EU member state - 165, including 33 types of cheese. In so far as the ruling reinforces the status of the PDO, it is a victory for Italy's cheese-makers.

But it is by no means an unmixed triumph. The case was originally brought by the EU's executive, the European Commission, which claimed that Germany had failed to protect Parmigiano Reggiano's PDO rights by not prosecuting the sale of so-called "Parmesan."

The court ruled that it is up to the Italian authorities, not the German ones, to prosecute violations of PDOs, which come from Italy.

"The glass is half full and half empty. Germany has been acquitted, but the court has recognized that the term 'Parmesan' can only be used for Parmigiano Reggiano," Igino Morini, spokesman of the Parmigiano cheese-makers' group, told DPA.

The EU has listed 772 products under its protective wing. Italy and France between them are home to 40 per cent of the total, with 321 listings, including 78 types of cheese.

According to industry figures, the Parmesan industry employed 20,000 people and 244,000 cows in 2007, and had a turnover of 1.5 billion euros (2.2 billion dollars).

In 2007, the combined Parmesan-cheese output of northeast Italy totaled 120,000 tons, of which some 16 percent -- around 20,000 tons -- were exported.

Italy's Agriculture Minister Paolo Di Castro reacted to the ruling by calling for the EU to change its laws so that EU members could share the responsibility for protecting one another's products.

DPA with Expatica

0 Comments To This Article