Congress Joins Call to Protect Common Food Names

Both houses of Congress have joined the industry voice to push back against the European Union's (EU) aim to limit U.S. production and exports –- and ultimately its ability to compete in established markets -- by appropriating common food names.

In April, members of the U.S. Senate sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in an effort to protect the use of such common meat names as "bologna" and "black forest ham." The letter followed a similar request in March for the protection of common cheese names like "parmesan," "feta" and "asiago," among others.

“This trade barrier is of great concern to meat and other food manufacturers in our states,” the letter stated. “We urge you to continue to push back against the EU’s efforts to restrict our meat exports, particularly to nations with which we already have free trade agreements (FTAs).”

According to the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), an Arlington, Va.-based international non-profit alliance, the EU has leveraged FTAs "to persuade trading partners to impose barriers to U.S. exports under the guise of protecting geographical indications (GIs)."

“The EU has been aggressively moving to ‘own’ these names, at the expense of not only U.S. farmers and businesses but also those in many other countries around the world," said Jaime Castaneda, executive director of the CCFN. In addition to hampering product and exports, the act of appropriating common food names likely would confuse consumers by removing available products from the market.

In a similar effort, members of the U.S. House of Representatives joined the call in May. "This type of barrier to trade and commerce defies the fundamental goals of a trade agreement, and we urge you to work aggressively against the EU’s efforts in this respect in order to preserve both domestic and export opportunities for these products,” the House stated in its letter to Froman and Vilsack.

“This is nothing other than an effort to shut out competitors and block fair trade,” Castaneda said. “The members of the Consortium are not against GIs, but we emphatically reject the EU’s abusive policy of pocketing common food names under the guise of fake geographical indications, plain and simple.”

In the letter, the House encouraged the administration to defend the use of such names, especially as U.S. negotiators work with the EU on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

"We've been gratified to see the strong level of support from Congress," Shawna Morris, senior director of the CCFN, told Progressive Grocer.  "We appreciate the heighted level of political awareness that the EU's approach would create."

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