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Granted, it is a cheesy topic, but any way you slice it, the European Union's attempt to gain a monopoly on the names given to many popular cheeses really stinks.
Some may have some fun with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy for giving so much attention to something as seemingly trivial as what to name cheese brands. For businesses such as Sankow's Beaver Brook Farm in Lyme, however, naming is a serious matter. Sen. Murphy recently visited the 180-acre sheep and dairy farm to focus attention on the issue. The freshman senator is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs.
Cheese production is a $4 billion industry in this country.
The European Union seeks to ban the use of traditional European names by U.S. cheese producers, such as Swiss, feta, Gorgonzola, Parmesan and Muenster.
As noted in a recent Day story, under the proposed rules, only cheese made in Parma, Italy could bear the name "Parmesan," and no cheese could be called "feta" unless it came from Greece.
American producers would be left calling their products "Parmesan-style" or perhaps "I can't believe it's not feta." Such an approach would leave the impression that the U.S. products are somehow inferior or fake, giving European cheese manufacturers a competitive advantage both in this country and in foreign markets, which we suspect is the intention.
Europe is pursuing the issue in EU-U.S. free trade agreement talks.
Sen. Murphy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal - both Connecticut Democrats - have signed a letter to the U.S. chief trade negotiator urging that he not agree to the name restrictions. The effort to block the proposed provision has bipartisan support in Washington.
Free trade deals are supposed to encourage global competition, not stifle it. European cheese producers should be prepared to compete based on the quality and value of their products, not play name games to try to gain advantage.
This is hardly the most important issue our senators will deal with, but neither is it inconsequential; free trade should also be fair trade and U.S. negotiators should not grab this particular piece of cheese that European leaders have laid in their trap.