Trade Talks With EU Could Harm Wisconsin Cheese

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Trade Talks With EU Could Harm Wisconsin Cheese

Premiere Date: 
March 21, 2014

The EU seeks to restrict U.S. cheese from carrying European names like feta or parmesan.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

Finally tonight, Wisconsin just captured 33 gold medals at the World Cheese Championships held in Madison this week, the gold medal leaders of the competition. Take that European Union. The Dairy State’s hallmark cheese industry is quaking over a pending trade agreement, because the EU doesn't want US cheese to carry European names. Think Parmesan, Gruyere, Feta. It’s a game-changer for sure.

Wisconsin is the number one producer of cheese in the US. 2.6 billion pounds of it hit the market every year.

Ben Brancel:

We have worked hard and diligently to increase the volume of the size and kinds and styles of cheeses so that we have 600. But if you start eliminating some of the names in the international marketplace, now we're talking hundreds of millions of dollars of impact.

Frederica Freyberg:

Because our cheesemakers turn out varieties like Asiago, Gruyere, Fontina, Gorgonzola, Muenster, Havarti, Feta and Parmesan. Those cheeses all have foreign sounding names, right? Well,  the European Union is saying it owns those old-world names. In a new trade agreement now being negotiated, the EU wants to restrict their use for American-made cheese.

John Omhoefer:

We’ve made Parmesan for decades. The word should belong to the world. Now it you talk about a specific word, perhaps that could, you know, be saved for Italy.

Frederica Freyberg:

As judges from across the world, including places like Italy and Switzerland, inspect, smell and taste cheeses during the World Cheese Championships, held here in Wisconsin, the ongoing  trade talks with the EU hang over the contest.

Ben Brancel:

They'd like to protect Havarti. There is discussions, they'd like to protect Parmesan. These are commonly accepted names in the marketplace, and if you start carrying around names that are Parmesan-like, Feta-like, then international marketplace says, “What do you mean it's ‘like?’ Is this an imitation, an artificial, cheese?” And it become difficult to market your products.

Frederica Freyberg:

And Wisconsin cheese has  found big markets in Asia, the Middle East and South America, not to mention is biggest importer, Canada. The concern? Not being able to use common cheese names would allow European cheese, with those well-known names to cut into not just our domestic sales, but our exports. And so more than 50 US senators, including both Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin, have signed on to a letter to the US trade representative negotiating the pact saying, “we urge you to make clear to your EU counterparts that the US will reject any proposal in the negotiations now underway that would restrict in any way the ability of US producers to use common cheese names. In states that we represent, many small or medium-sized  family-owned farms and firms could have their business unfairly restricted by the EU’s push.”

John Omhoefer:

One of the biggest makers of Feta in Wisconsin is a family. They’ve been making cheese for four  generations. If they couldn't use that word anymore I don’t know how they could still make Feta. I don’t think they could afford to teach America what they're making.

Frederica Freyberg:

Because the question becomes, what would Wisconsin-made Feta be called, if not Feta?

John Omhoefer:

Crumbly white cheese, yeah. That wouldn’t sound as appealing as Feta.

Frederica Freyberg:

Wisconsin is the only state in the nation with a Master's Cheesemakers program, and boosts world-champion cheeses year after year. The European Union has competition.

Ben Brancel:

One of the reasons they're wanting to do that is because they're finding that the US  is starting to have successes. 


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