Greece has scored a win in its long fight to protect its right to the term “feta” after Europe’s top court reprimanded Denmark for not blocking local companies from using the name for sales outside the European Union.
Greece claims feta as part of its cultural heritage because it has made the sheep and goat milk cheese for 6,000 years.
The Luxembourg-based court of justice of the EU (CJEU) agreed with its assertion on Thursday. “By failing to stop the use of the designation feta for cheese intended for export to third countries, Denmark has failed to fulfil its obligations under EU law,” judges said.
The European Commission – backed by Cyprus – sued Denmark in 2019 for failing to prevent local companies from making and exporting outside the EU white cheese labelled as feta, breaching rules that limit that term to cheese from Greece. Denmark had argued that an export ban could be seen as an obstacle to trade.
The commission opened infringement proceedings against Denmark over the issue in January 2018 but said the country had not addressed the issues raised.
Feta has been designated a traditional Greek product by the EU executive since 2002, giving it legal protection in the 27-country bloc.
The CJEU endorsed the label in 2005. Its then advocate general, Dámaso Ruiz-Jarabo Colomer, advised that feta was not a generic name and should be seen as a traditional name deserving protection throughout the EU’s member countries. He said feta’s quality derived from the geographical surroundings where it is made, with its colour, texture, flavour and composition depending on natural environment, culture and traditional production methods.
The issue is more than just national pride for Greece, which produces about 120,000 tons of feta annually. It has long proclaimed that to merit the exclusive name the cheese must be made in the country from unpasteurised sheep’s milk, or a mixture of sheep’s milk with goat’s milk, and then curdled with rennet.
The Danes, who make their cheese from pasteurised cow’s milk, have marketed their “feta” since 1963.
Reuters contributed to this report
July 14, 2022 at 05:06PM Staff and agencies