Not Un Oeuf: EU Wages Battle with Australian Cheese Makers

It started with Champagne in the 90’s and now the EU is trying to stop Australian producers from using a raft of other descriptive terms on domestically produced food and drinks.

As part of free trade negotiations, the EU has supplied a list of 172 foods and 236 alcoholic drinks to Australia to consider enforcing on growers and producers.

The EU wants Australian producers to stop using terms including feta, Gorgonzola and Beaufort altogether, including a ban on using terms such as ‘Australian-style feta’ or ‘Australian haloumi’.

Other food items will be limited to their generic base, for example Camembert Du Normandie will not be allowed, but Camembert is permissible. The rulings also state that producers can not use these terms ‘in a way that may deceive or mislead consumers as to the true origin or quality of the product,’ according to a statement on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.

This extends to visual cues on packaging including branding and graphics. Once enforced producers will also have to update ingredients panels to ensure that words like ‘feta’ are replaced with another term.

According to one dairy industry expert, the sector could be up for a $70-90 million dollar investment to counter the changes through rebranding, new packaging and consumer education. 

As part of an article written for Farm Online, Australian Dairy Federation president Terry Richardson expressed his concern at the changes.

“For farmers, it could lead to lower demand for milk and ultimately a reduction in farmgate prices,” he wrote.

“But the biggest impact will no doubt be felt by business owners who have spent decades building their brand and who could lose both crucial markets and loyal customers.”

The EU has previously tried to make growers relinquish the term Prosecco, but Australia argued that Prosecco was a grape varietal before it was an indicator. Since then, Prosecco has been registered a Geographical Indicator (GI) and in an interview with ABC radio, a representative from the EU has said that the use of the name will be contented in the future.

“Since that state a few years ago we are in contact with the Australian Government and Australian wine makers to see how possibly we could get that protection ultimately,” said Lionel Mesnildrey, lead negotiator on geographical indicators for the EU.

During the interview, Mr Mesnildrey assured listeners that the EU has no plans to challenge highly generic terms such as mozzarella, sausages and pizza.

Not Choice, Bru.

Closer to home, the New Zealand government has launched a bid to stop Australian honey producers from using the term ‘Manuka’ on products exported to China. 

While Australian growers could argue that Manuka honey – which is produced by bees collecting nectar from the Manuka tree – is not limited to a specific geographical location, the New Zealand Manuka sector is claiming that the word is Maori in origin and therefore should be limited to use by their growers only.

The Manuka honey industry is worth $1.2billion globally with high-end product sold in China for up to $400 per kilo. 

Manuka has successfully been limited to New Zealand producers in the UK, although Australia is currently appealing this decision. The US has recently rejected an intellectual property claim by New Zealand.

Sources: Good FoodLexology,ABC RadioSydney Morning Herald.
Image: “Prosecco wine hills 1” by Lorenzo Benetton alias apolide is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

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