Food producers and organizations from multiple countries have launched the Consortium for Common Food Names to stop efforts to restrict the use of generic food names, including such efforts by the European Commission.

According to a press release, the consortium says it opposes any attempt to monopolize generic names (including those of dairy foods) that have become part of the public domain, such as parmesan, feta, provolone, bologna, salami and many others. The consortium will seek to foster the adoption of an appropriate model that protects legitimate geographical indications (or GIs) like “Parmigiano Reggiano” while preserving the right of all producers to use common names like “parmesan.” It says it is not opposed to proper GIs like Camembert de Normandie cheese from France, and adds that products from other parts of the world – such as Washington State Apples or Thai Jasmine Rice – may also benefit from similar protection.

“No one country or entity should own common food names,” said Jaime Castaneda, executive director of the new initiative, and senior vice president of trade policy at the U.S. Dairy Export Council. “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.

“At least as much feta and parmesan cheese are made outside Europe as within it,” said Errico Auricchio, chairman of the consortium. Auricchio, whose family has been making Italian-style cheeses since 1877, is the president of BelGioioso Cheese Inc., Green Bay, Wis.

“These generic names are in the public domain,” he said. “The logical path is to label foods so consumers can choose what they want – whether it’s a food from the valleys of France, Italy or Wisconsin. What matters is that they can choose.”

The European Commission has been attempting to insert naming restrictions within free trade agreements, as seen in current negotiations with several Western Hemisphere and Asian countries.

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