This week the Commission said it has issued warning letters to Bulgaria and Denmark for failing to respect its protected designation of origin (PDO) and protected geographical indication (PGI)
Bulgaria has been using its own national quality scheme, the Trademark and Geographical Indication Act, since September 1999 even though it should have phased it out when it became an EU member in 2007.
“The Commission takes the view that a national protection of geographical indications is not compatible with EU rules on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs,” it said.
Denmark, meanwhile, had been failing to stop “the unlawful use” of the protected name ‘Feta’. Danish companies were either producing or importing white cheese and then exporting it to third countries with a misleading 'Feta' labelling, the Commission said, which constituted a "misuse" of the EU Regulation.
Feta became a protected designation of origin (PDO) food product back in 2002 (confirmed by a 2005 European Court of Justice ruling) - a victory for Greece that was met with strong opposition from other producer countries.
In 2005, Germany, France and Denmark produced just short of 100,000 tonnes of feta per year - worth around €500m and making up almost half of the EU production - while Greece produced 115,000 tonnes.
According to managing director of legal firm Hylobates Consulting and food law expert Luca Bucchini, the fact that the Commission is cracking down on a "marginal" national scheme such as Bulgaria's or on Danish white cheese that is sold outside the EU, "shows how serious the EU is about PDO - even if things are not always easy".
In monetary terms, it's an industry that is worth protecting. Protected food and drink products were worth €54.3 billion worldwide, according to the EU, representing 15% of the bloc’s total food and drinks exports.
Bucchini added: "I think partners of the EU in [international trade deals] CETA and Mercosur will see this as evidence of the EU's priorities.”
“Danish producers may feel they do nothing wrong if they sell Danish white cheese as feta to, say, Americans, Russians or the Chinese. The Commission does not allege that they sell such products in Denmark or elsewhere in the EU, and Danish producers may respond that American or Russian producers are able to label their local white cheese as feta ignoring EU law and Greece. However under EU law this is not possible as the EU aims to gain the trust of consumers globally,” he told FoodNavigator.