Washington, D.C. –U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) are working together to protect dairy farmers and producers in Ohio and across the country from a European initiative that would change common names for cheeses frequently purchased by Americans.

In a bipartisan letter signed by more than 50 of their Senate colleagues, Sens. Portman and Brown urged the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to fight European Union (EU) efforts to prohibit American dairy producers from using dozens of common cheese names.  The EU claims that dairy products baring names such as asiago, feta, parmesan, and muenster are “geographical indicators” and can only be appropriately displayed on products made in certain areas of Europe. 

If the United States were to be subjected to a ban of these traditional brand names for various cheeses, consumers may be confused and American dairy farmers could suffer.

“America’s dairy farmers and producers work hard to develop a product and brand that resonates with their customers,” Portman said. “If the EU succeeds in establishing trade guidelines that would restrict branding, it could hurt product sales and jobs here in Ohio. I urge the Administration to continue working aggressively to ensure the EU doesn’t impede U.S. businesses' ability to compete domestically or internationally.”

“Ohio dairy producers make some of the highest quality cheese in the world,” Brown said. “Their product is as good as any from Europe and should be given equal opportunity to compete in the food market. The USDA and USTR should stand up for American producers by standing up to the European Union.”  

“Ohio’s dairy farmers appreciate the support of Senators Portman and Brown for looking out for the interests of dairy farmers and the cheese industry in Ohio,” said Ohio Dairy Producers Association CEO Scott Higgins. “We are grateful that our Senators see the potential harm that Ohio’s dairy industry could endure and for taking a stand against the EU’s efforts to restrict the use of commonly used cheese names by our cheese makers and enjoyed by Ohio’s consumers.”  

In addition to the Ohio Dairy Producers Association, the National Milk Producers Association, International Dairy Foods Association, U.S. Dairy Export Council, American Farm Bureau Federation, Kraft, Leprino Foods, and others support Sens. Portman and Brown’s efforts.

The text of the letter can be seen below and here.

Dear Secretary Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Froman:

We commend your past work to fight the growing geographical indication (GI) restrictions promoted by the European Union (EU). This trade barrier is of great concern to dairy and other food manufacturers in our states. On their behalf, we urge you to continue to push back against the EU's efforts to restrict our cheese exports, particularly to nations with which we already have free trade agreements. In addition, we urge you to make clear to your EU counterparts that the U.S. will reject any proposal in the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations now underway that would restrict in any way the ability of US producers to use common cheese names.

In country after country, the EU has been using its free trade agreements (FTAs) to persuade its trading partners to impose barriers to U.S. exports under the guise of protection for its geographical indications. This trade-damaging practice is concerning anywhere, but it is most deeply troubling where the U.S. has an established FTA or has been actively in the process of negotiating a new agreement. For example, Canada agreed as part of its recently concluded FTA with the EU to impose new restrictions on the use of "feta" and other common cheese names. Common names for products such as "feta" are clearly generic in Canada, as they are in many other countries. These restrictions not only threaten harm to the companies currently involved in the Canadian market, but they would also impair market access for U.S. dairy products that we are now attempting to secure under ongoing trade negotiations. Similar trade barriers are cropping up throughout Latin America as well and are under discussion in many Asian countries involved in negotiations with the EU.

Reportedly, the EU now seeks to more directly impair U.S. competition by imposing restrictions on the use of common food names through TTIP. In the 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 to use geographical indications as a barrier to dairy trade and competition. As we begin to engage in TTIP negotiations that are ultimately intended to bring about a better economic climate on both sides of the Atlantic by lowering barriers to trade, we strongly oppose the EU's gratuitous use of GIs as a protectionist measure.

We ask that USTR and USDA continue to work aggressively to ensure the EU's GI efforts on commonly used cheese names do not impair U.S. businesses' ability to compete domestically or internationally and that you make this a top priority through both official TTIP and bilateral negotiations.