On Tuesday, Jaime Castaneda, executive director of the Federation of Common Food Names and executive vice president of strategy for the National Dairy Producers Association, said he was “ecstatic” about the court’s ruling.
“For us, this decision is not just about the Gruyere,” he said. “This goes into the biggest battle we are having with Europe in which they are trying to confiscate all these names,” he said, adding that the EU is adopting rules that benefit its producers at the expense of producers elsewhere.
In Europe, countries are very protective of their culinary heritage. The European Union says it aims to protect the names of certain products to enhance the unique characteristics associated with their geographical origin. Among the cheeses, Roquefort should be from Roquefort-sur-Sulzone, France; Parmesan must come from the Italian regions around the cities of Parma and Reggio; Feta and feta must be from certain regions of Greece.
But the same rules don’t apply in the United States, where cheese labeled feta, monster, or parmesan can be produced anywhere. (However, Roquefort must be produced in France). The European Union cannot prevent European countries other than Switzerland and France from selling the cheese known as gruyère in the United States. In fact, from 2010 to 2020, the United States imported more cheese from the Netherlands and Germany than Switzerland and France, according to USDA data. For at least 30 years, American cheese producers have applied the “gruyère” label to cheeses from countries such as Denmark, Egypt, and Tunisia.
A spokesman for the Swiss Ministry of Agriculture, Jonathan Fisch, said in a statement that the Swiss government is disappointed with the court’s ruling. “Using the term ‘gruyère’ to refer to cheese produced in the United States threatens the reputation of the original producer and its position in the foreign market and can only harm the entire sector,” he said.
Margo Bagley, a professor at Emory University School of Law who focuses on patent and intellectual property law, said she agreed with the court’s decision.
“If we are to have a vibrant competitive market, other producers must be able to sell products under the common name that consumers are familiar with,” she said.