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EU's Parmesan Bid Draws Fire From Dairy Industry

EU's Parmesan Bid Draws Fire From Dairy Industry

The Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand (DCANZ) has strongly criticised the European Union's (EU) bid to restrict the use of the term "parmesan" to only Italian-produced product, saying consumers will be the losers.

DCANZ Chairman Earl Rattray says the EU has made the "extraordinary claim" that consumers are being misled by the worldwide use of the name "parmesan".

"Parmesan cheese has been produced in many countries for many years and is invariably labelled with the country of origin," Mr Rattray said.

"Contrary to the Eurocentric claim, consumers of parmesan are not so unworldly as to confuse the non-Italian product with the expensive boutique cheese, 'Parmigiano Reggiano', produced in Parma."

The majority of countries attending the milk committee meeting of the intergovernmental body, Codex Alimentarius, in New Zealand last week opposed a move by the EU to claim "ownership" of the name "parmesan" for one of its member states."

Italian producers said that the cheese name "parmesan" belonged to a select group of cheese makers located in Italy's Parma region, and that the name should be reserved exclusively for use by them.

They argued that it was a direct translation of the cheese name "Parmigiano Reggiano", which is protected under EU law for the benefit of the Parma region.

Mr Rattray says it's interesting that EU members Germany and Ireland both produce parmesan cheese which they export outside the EU. Germany did not accept the translation argument and was "preparing to do battle with the European Commission in the European courts."

"In New Zealand last week, parmesan-producing countries including the US, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina stood side by side with other countries across four continents in their rejection of the EU claim that the name 'parmesan' belongs to Parma alone."

The fundamental mandate of Codex is to develop international standards for consumer protection in the areas of health and to prevent misleading trade practices, thereby facilitating international trade.

"Since there is no way that Parma, Italy can supply the huge global demand for parmesan, the losers in this attempted EU claw-back would be consumers accustomed to buying an affordable, locally or regionally produced parmesan. Such moves to restrict consumer choice are the exact opposite of what Codex is about."

Parmesan-producing and consuming countries have recommended that the milk committee of Codex develop an international standard to bring consistency to the composition and labelling of parmesan across trading countries.

Mr Rattray says such a standard would help to ensure consumers in the global marketplace are offered parmesan of internationally agreed standards of safety and quality, regardless of country of origin.

An international standard would also help global marketers reduce the high and often hidden costs of complying with many different country standards, he said.

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