20 January 2009

Say Cheese!

So where exactly was that Parmesan cheese produced that you grated over your pasta last night? The average consumer is not phased about the fact that the Parmesan cheese was not produced in Italy. In fact he might not even know that there is a region in Italy called "Parmigiano Reggiano", not to mention the fact that the word "Parmesan" is loosely used to describe "Parmigiano Reggiano" in English.

Geographical Indications (GIs) are indications that identify a product as originating from a region, where a given quality or reputation of the product is attributable to its geographic origin and, in essence, serves the same function as a trade mark. A registered Protected Designations of Origin (PDO) is one of three forms of GI classifications designed to protect certain registered food and beverage products, by legally requiring such products to be made in a certain geographic zone or manner in order to obtain use of the name. One of the most well known GIs is "Champagne" which must be produced in France's Champagne region to carry the name, otherwise it's just sparkling wine.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) recently held that the name Parmesan can only be used for cheeses which are in fact produced in this designated PDO zone around Parma and Reggio Emilia in Italy. This brings Parmesan cheese into the same category as other protected European cheeses like Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Feta.

The ECJ, dismissed the submission that Parmesan is a generic term and ruled that the term Parmesan was both phonetically and visually similar to the "Parmigiano Reggiano" PDO and that it could not be used as a general name for hard cheeses.

The protections afforded to a PDO and the other types of GIs are therefore extremely broad and producers should carefully consider the influence of GIs on their branding. Although South African producers are still permitted in South Africa to incorrectly refer to GIs or PDOs to identify products such as Parmesan and Port, exporters should be aware that such use may be prohibited in other countries.

Eben van Wyk and Regardt Botes

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