Hidden cost in EU ban

EU move to ban cheese names big threat to Australian dairy industry


Dairy
BIG HIT: Riverina Dairy chief executive Franck Beaurain is one of the Australian dairy manufacturers who may be forced to rebadge his firm's feta cheese under an EU deal.

BIG HIT: Riverina Dairy chief executive Franck Beaurain is one of the Australian dairy manufacturers who may be forced to rebadge his firm's feta cheese under an EU deal.

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The European Union's mission to force Australia into banning common cheese names like feta and haloumi represents one of the biggest threats to the industry in decades.

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The European Union's mission to force Australia into banning common cheese names like feta and haloumi represents one of the biggest threats to our livelihoods that I can recall in my decades in the dairy industry.

Negotiations between Australia and the EU over a free trade agreement are now at a crucial point.

The next three months could be decisive in determining whether local cheesemakers will have those common names ripped from them in a move that could cost our local dairy sector $70 million-$90 million a year in re-branding, re-packaging and consumer re-education costs.

The Australian Government has released a list of 236 food and drink names that the EU insists must be protected as geographical indications (GIs) under a trade deal.

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Of those names, 60 are cheeses, including Feta, Gruyère, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Grana Padano, Beaufort and Blue Stilton among others.

So, for example, if you're a cheese manufacturer at Warrnambool or Bega and who prides yourself on your unique feta recipe, the EU has a stern warning: come up with a new name for your product; only cheesemakers in Greece can lay claim to that name.

As absurd as it sounds, it is an argument that is quickly gaining traction.

EU officials are regularly touring across Australia building their case for GI restrictions, using any manner of messages to convince our farmers, processors and manufacturers that we would benefit from creating a separate identity for Australian products.

It is a cunning ploy that plays to the well-established concept of Australian patriotism.

But for the dairy industry, it could spell disaster.

For farmers, it could lead to lower demand for milk and ultimately a reduction in farmgate prices.

No Whey: Apostle Whey Cheese co-owner Julian Benson said the GIs would unfairly impact Australian dairy producers. Picture: Mark Witte

No Whey: Apostle Whey Cheese co-owner Julian Benson said the GIs would unfairly impact Australian dairy producers. Picture: Mark Witte

For consumers, it could lead to higher prices as a result of less competition.

There are likely to be fewer choices and also confusion as consumers want to buy their favourite brand.

But the biggest impact will no doubt be felt by business owners who have spent decades building their brand and who could lose both crucial markets and loyal customers.

A quick look in any supermarket cheese section will show you that many Australian dairy manufacturers brought their skills from Europe.

They have established successful businesses in Australia, providing significant employment opportunities, particularly in rural and regional Australia.

Any move to restrict their business would likely devastate them personally and financially.

This measure would render extinct locally produced cheese varieties with a value of production worth $180 million and export sales averaging $55 million per year.

And if that didn't sound alarming enough, the EU also wants to extend the scope of labelling restrictions to include colours, flags, and even symbols that might evoke EU countries.

It even goes as far as to include the use of product names accompanied by the terms "style", "type" and "like", and translations of these names.

Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has given us a three-month window to lodge our objections to GIs.

If you are as concerned as I am about this threat to the dairy industry, I urge you to get involved.

Write to your local federal member, tell them how serious this is for local businesses and communities.

Share your concerns with your friends and neighbours.

Feta may be a region in Greece, but most of the world knows it as a type of cheese.

That's why we are determined to fight for our right to call dairy products by their common food names.

The story Hidden cost in EU ban first appeared on Farm Online.

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