Phony Baloney

Florida orange juice comes only from Florida, right? Then why shouldn't baloney come solely from the Italian city of Bologna? ask European officials.

Not so fast, says the US Patent and Trademark Office. The culinary art of making baloney, like linguica sausage or Parmesan cheese, came to America with immigrants, and the food terms are now generic in use - even if the food originated in a specific region of the world. And the quality may even be better in the US-made products.

Ah, yes, counters Europe, then why does the US require that "Swiss chocolate" be only from Switzerland, or Darjeeling tea only from India, or Parma ham only from Parma, Italy?

These are some arguments being cooked up for a global food fight that will start this September at World Trade Organization talks in Mexico.

The European Union plans to submit an initial list of food names that supposedly have "geographic indications" (i.e. Prosciutto di Parma) and would be part of a proposed global registry of food and spirits with a clear local heritage.

The EU wants to "claw back" local food names now widely used elsewhere and prevent "inferior" imitations. If it wins the day, consumers could end up paying through the nose for items such as "real" Gorgonzola cheese, and essentially subsidize European producers. The US contends each nation's trademark laws can suffice for now in protecting certain food names.

Alas, though, France recently declined a request by Idaho to register that state's name for its potatoes. What's next? Will some Europeans soon try to usurp "Washington State apples" for the EU market? Perhaps they might then like to have some American-made Stilton cheese to go with them apples.

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