Sunday, January 27, 2013

Name Calling Sparks Global Food Fight

The word Parmigiano means ''from Parma,'' and when it comes to cheese in Europe, you can take that literally. In 2002 the European Court of Justice ruled only cheese makers in and around Parma, Italy, have rights to use the name Parmigiano Reggiano and its English translation, Parmesan. The cheese is just one item on a long list of several thousand foods, wines, spirits, and beers. Under European Union rules, the only wines that can bear the name Chablis are those bottled in the French region of that name, the only cheese sold as pecorino Toscano has to be made in Tuscany, and, if a new global proposal is accepted, Oscar Mayer will have ti find a new way to spell bologna.

Parmigiano Reggiano

At September 2003 meeting of the 146-nation World Trade Organization, the EU unveiled a shorter list of some 40 ''geographical indications'' - foods and libations named for or associated with European areas. Under the EU-proposed global pact, geographic origin would trump existing trademarks, and many products that lack Old World provenance would have to be renamed. And the EU won't swallow half-baked labels "Rioja-style" and ''imitation Gorgonzola" either.

Sarah Thorn of the Grocery Manufacturers of America takes issue with the EU plan. "Why shouldn't we have rights to names brought over hundreds of years ago? Some are generic. It's too late to ask for them back. 

adapted from Scott Elder's article in National Geographic, July 2004

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