EU playing cheese name game

AUSTRALIAN cheesemakers stand to lose up to $95 million a year if a push by the European Union to impose Geographic Indications as part of free trade negotiations is successful.

If a GI system is implemented, local cheesemakers could be restricted from using common cheese names such as fetta, parmesan and haloumi. The Australian Dairy Industry Council is encouraging local consumers to stand behind the local industry and only buy Australian-made cheese.

A GI system only allows products to use certain names if they are produced in a specific region and the ADIC says the EU has been pushing to use the system to monopolise the use of common names to favour European producers.

The potential direct cost of GI extension for Australian dairy producers is estimated to be between at least $77-95 million a year for the first three years and it could result in the loss of up to 1000 jobs.

The ADIC’s a position supported by local Tasmanian company, and one of the state’s biggest privately owned cheese brands, Ashgrove Cheese.

Ashgrove general manager Richard Bennett said losing the use of common cheese names would have a huge impact on local producers and consumers.

“We use some of these geographical locators because they’ve been used to describe the cheeses for a long time, especially things like parmesan and fetta,” he said. “Even cheddar is technically a geographical locator… so if cheesemakers aren’t able to use terms like cheddar the consumers aren’t going to know what they’re buying.”

Mr Bennett said if these common terms cannot be used, the industry as a whole would have to undergo a significant rebranding exercise. “We certainly use some of our own names on our more unique cheeses and get away from that type of description, but when you’re making a cheddar or a cheddar-style cheese or a parmesan, we want to be able to use that as a name,” he said.

The ADIC says the Australian dairy industry is at risk of losing the names of over 50 varieties of cheese placing future production and sale at risk if GI protections are imposed in Australia.

It says the EU wants to go a step further and restrict the right of cheesemakers to highlight their cultural heritage by banning the use of certain colours, fonts and other branding and the bans could potential extend to products like Greek-style yoghurt as well.

ADF president and ADIC chair Rick Gladigau said Australia has a rich tradition of cheese making and it is a core part of our food culture built upon our nation’s proud multicultural heritage.

“The impact of a strict agreement on GIs cannot be underestimated,” said Mr Gladigau. “Forcing cheesemakers to change the name of their product and denying them the right to use their branding due to evoking European heritage is unacceptable.

“The effects of this will be greatly felt when it comes to farmgate prices, demand for raw milk, and the unfair displacement of local Australian producers and quality made products, putting up to 1000 jobs at risk.”

Mr Gladigau said many of the GI at risk cheeses have been made in Australia for generations.