EU wants to ban US use of Parmesan, Gouda. Lawmakers cheesed.

The European Union wants to stop American cheese producers from using European names like Parmesan and Muenster on their products, but US lawmakers and dairy farmers are fighting back. 

David Ake/AP/File
If the European Union gets its way, Kraft won't be able to call this Parmesan cheese.

It may get a little harder soon to find feta and Gorgonzola in your local supermarket, thanks to some not-so-grate news for America’s cheese manufacturers.

(Pardon the pun. But this is serious.)

As part of ongoing trade negotiations, the European Union is looking to ban cheese producers in the United States from labeling their products with names associated with Europe: Parmesan, Gouda, feta, and provolone, to name a few. The EU argues that the American-made varieties of these cheeses are inferior versions that undermine the quality of their European counterparts and eat into European sales.

The EU has not laid out a public proposal for the ban just yet, but it recently reached agreements with Central America and Canada, where feta cheese, for example, must now be labeled “feta-style” or “feta-like” and can no longer use Greek symbols or signage that suggests Greece.

Canada’s dairy farmers loudly denounced the change when it was introduced last year, and their American counterparts are following suit. The International Dairy Foods Association, a Washington-based group that represents the interests of dairy farmers, cheesemakers, and ice-cream producers, called the EU’s plans “the kinds of restrictions that have the capacity to stall job growth in the United States and limit our expanding dairy export market.”

Tuesday, 55 US senators headed by Charles Schumer (D) of New York and Patrick Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania, sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Trade Representative Michael Froman, the US representatives in the trade negotiations, urging them to reject the EU’s proposal.

“In country after country, the EU has been using its free trade agreements (FTAs) to impose barriers to US exports under the guise of protection for its geographical indications,” the letter reads. “In the states that we represent, many small or medium-sized family-owned farms and firms could have their businesses unfairly restricted by the EU’s push to use geographical indications as a barrier to trade and competition.”

Kraft isn’t happy, either, given the branding on its familiar green canister of Parmesan cheese: “Such restrictions could not only be costly to food makers, but also potentially confusing for consumers if the labels of their favorite products using these generic names were required to change,” company spokesman Basil Maglaris said in a statement.

The new cheese rules are up for discussion as part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, currently being negotiated in Brussels between the EU and the US.  But if the restrictions go through, what should American cheesemakers name their wares? In an interview with AP, the president of one Wisconsin-based producer joked that he would have to call his Parmesan “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Parmesan,” Slate put several popular cheese names in their Adele Nazeem Name Generator (a joke born out of John Travolta butchering singer Idina Menzel’s name at the Oscars), and came up with several replacements: “Blake” for Brie, “Preston” for Provolone, and "Patrick Ridgardser" for  Parmigiano-Reggiano. America’s cheese lobby is hoping things don’t come to that. 

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