Food Law News - EU - 2002


Commission Press Release (IP/02/866), 14 June 2002

ORIGIN MARKING - Commission proposes geographical protection of "Feta" cheese

The European Commission adopted a proposal for a Council regulation on the registration of the Greek "Feta" cheese as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). According to the proposal, "Feta" cheese can only be produced in certain areas of Greece and respecting strict product specifications. Producers in other Member States or not respecting these specifications will be given a maximum 5-year transitional period to change the name or to stop production.

"Protection of geographical names is a key to promoting quality produce and increasing transparency," commented Franz Fischler, European Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries. ""Feta" cheese should not be an exception," he said. Marketing cheese as "Feta" when it is not produced strictly according to its product specifications is misleading consumers. These specifications require that the cheese is both produced in the specified traditional way and within the clearly delineated original production region".

Background

The European Union (EU) introduced legislation on geographical indications and designations of origin in July 1992 (Council Regulation (EEC) N 2081/92 of 14 July 1992) in an attempt to harmonise the protection of food products at EU level and to bring clarity to the market and protect the interests of producers and consumers. To date about 600 agricultural and food products have been protected under this Regulation.

Greece first applied to register "Feta"' cheese as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) under this Regulation in 1994. Following lengthy discussions and after failing to reach agreement in the Council of Ministers, the Commission in 1996 finally adopted measures to protect "Feta" in June 1996. Some Member States objected to the protection claiming the conditions which must be fulfilled if a product is to benefit from a PDO classification had not been satisfied. They argued that the geographical area which falls under protection of the registered name "Feta" essentially extends to all of Greece and considered the word "Feta" is a generic term and cannot therefore be protected as a PDO. The matter was subsequently referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The Court decided in March 1999 to partially annul the protection of "Feta" cheese on the basis that the information provided by the Commission was insufficient to enable to register it as a PDO.

Following the Court's Decision, the Commission subsequently invited the Member States to provide exhaustive information, in particular on production, consumption and available knowledge on the denomination of "Feta". The information it obtained was then submitted to the Scientific Committee for examination. The Scientific Committee adopted the unanimous opinion that the term is non-generic. It considered that production and consumption of "Feta" is heavily concentrated in Greece and that the original Greek product is the dominant one on the EU market. It also concluded that products bearing the same name in Member States other than Greece are primarily made from cows' milk and using different technology. To consumers the name "Feta" is also associated with a Greek origin implying that the name has not become generic on EU territory.

Following this extensive investigation and the opinion of the Scientific Committee, the Commission proposed to reinstate the protection of "Feta" cheese as a PDO. This proposal was submitted for opinion to the Regulatory Committee on Geographical Indications and Designations of Origin in May 2002. As the Committee failed to achieve the necessary qualified majority for a favourable opinion, the Comitology procedure foresees that the Commission now transmits the proposal to the Council. According to the Comitology procedure, the Council has three months to take a decision on the proposal. If there is no decision, the Commission proposal will enter into force.

For a list of the protected products, see on the internet at: http://europa.eu.int/comm/agriculture/qual/en/prod_en.htm


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