by SUSAN MANN
What’s in a name? Apparently plenty, if one is called Parma ham or Feta cheese.
Those names are on a list of 145 names recognized in the new Canada-European Union trade agreement as being “geographical indicators.” That means as part of the trade agreement their use is being restricted.
Thérèse Beaulieu, spokesperson for Dairy Farmers of Canada, says according to the agreement existing makers of the products Feta, Asiago, Gorgonzola, Munster and Fontina cheese will be permitted to continue using those names on their products. But new manufacturers that start up after the trade deal takes effect will have to add words, such as ‘style’ or ‘like’ to the name as in Feta-style cheese.
The European Union claims “ownership of those names,” she says, noting that the geographical indicators are meant to protect Europe’s own market.
Sylvain Charlebois, associate dean of research in the College of Management and Economics at the University of Guelph, says he’s not surprised the Europeans are imposing restrictions on how certain product names can be used. “Europeans have been accustomed to believing you can sell regions, cultures through supply chains.”
Unlike the Europeans who “are proud of their Champagne and their Dijon mustard and their cheeses, Canadians don’t have the culinary or gastronomic history that Europe does, he says.
But Charlebois says he’s not convinced the name restriction will create “a whole lot of tension with artisan cheese makers because those who are already in the market won’t be affected all that much.” For new businesses, once they know the rules of the game “you can just adapt and come up with something new.”
This also provides an opportunity for Ontario and Canadian manufacturers to start thinking about the “terroir” concept of selling regions and cultures through food, he says.
Beaulieu says while existing companies can continue using the names on the trade deal’s list, labels may have to be changed if there is imagery that evokes the European country associated with the name, such as Greece and Feta cheese.
As for ‘Greek’ yogurt, Beaulieu says the trade deal doesn’t affect the use of that term.
Dairy Farmers of Canada and the national Canadian association representing processors both fought the government’s move to include the provision in the trade deal. Furthermore, the United States is unhappy with Canada’s decision to recognize the geographical indicators, and the Canadian dairy industry is “basically on the same page as the U.S. dairy industry,” Beaulieu says.
Manufacturers in many countries make those types of cheeses and “we call them common names and not geographical indicators,” she says.
Forcing companies to use words, such as style or like, could hurt new manufacturers, she says. Consumers consider the products, such as Feta or Asiago, to be a type of cheese. They “don’t have the idea this has to be from Greece or this one has to be from Italy or whatever.”
But once a label says, Feta-type or Feta-style cheese, that will shake consumer confidence and they may believe the cheese isn’t the real thing. “It’s just going to create distrust in a new cheese maker that’s trying to establish their brand.”
Bob Seguin, George Morris Centre executive director, agrees there will be fallout for Canadian companies. “It will restrict some business opportunities.”
Seguin says it would be surprising that someone would want to get into cheese manufacturing if they had to call their product Feta-like or imitation Feta.
The whole question of geographical indicators will come up again during the Untied States-European Union trade negotiations, he notes. “The United States has been far more adamant that they do not want to recognize the European Union’s geographical indicators,” he notes.
The Europeans and Americans may come up with a different trade deal than the Canada-EU one. But Seguin says that could open up a whole new can of worms because Canada and the United States are both part of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The question then becomes how would Canada treat American cheeses with the “geographical indicator-name that’s not consistent with what we just decided we would do with the Europeans?”
Seguin says likely the American product would be allowed into Canada but it wouldn’t be called Gorgonzola-like or Asiago-like cheese, which is the name that would be required to be on the Canadian-made product. BF