​The Great Feta Feud: Denmark, Greece, and the EU

​The Great Feta Feud: Denmark, Greece, and the EU

Posted by Stelios on 20th Jul 2022

In a decision that left Copenhagen looking rather sheepish, Denmark faced a setback in the European Union's top court over the feta cheese saga, which dates back decades.

The Court of Justice of the European Union has recently decreed that Denmark's decision to allow its cheesemakers to sell cheese labelled as "feta" beyond the EU's boundaries is against the law. As per the EU law, "feta" has a specific legal classification. It can only be termed "feta" if manufactured in some areas of Greece, following an age-old traditional recipe.

This dispute was brought to the fore in 2019 when the European Commission, with the backing of Greece and Cyprus, took legal action against Denmark. The primary concern was that Denmark was infringing EU law by not curtailing its dairies from selling imitation feta overseas.

Interestingly, Denmark didn't contest the claim of selling the said "feta". Their defence was rooted in the belief that the EU's geographical indication regulations did not apply to exports. However, the court's judgment was to the contrary. The Commission's legal team contended that the Danish government's lack of intervention jeopardised Greek food manufacturers' entitlement to reasonable earnings and weakened the EU's position in trade discussions. In these discussions, the EU vies for crucial protections for its food and drink products.

Belgique - Bruxelles - Schuman - Berlaymont - 01 Image Source: EmDee, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this year, the court's advocate general echoed the Commission's sentiments and suggested that this chapter be integrated into EU law studies, marking it as the latest episode in the ongoing feta narrative.

The chronicle of this cheese began over two decades ago. Countries like Denmark, France, and Germany had initially resisted the EU's move to grant feta intellectual property rights. However, Greece emerged victorious in 2002 when the European Commission identified feta's unique Greek heritage and formally recognised it under the "protected designation of origin".

Key Points

  • The Luxembourg-based Court of Justice declared that by inhibiting its companies from exporting cheese as "feta" outside the EU, Denmark had breached its duties under EU regulations. This marks the end of almost 60 years of Danish feta sales.
  • Feta, a quintessential Greek cheese, is made from the milk of sheep or goats without pasteurisation. Over the last two decades, the EU has ratified that feta is not just a commonplace name; it must originate from Greece.
  • Astonishingly, while Greece remains the global leader in feta production, consuming a staggering 85% within the EU, its share in global exports is only 28%, as per the World Intellectual Property Organization.
  • A whopping 120,000 tons of feta are crafted in Greece each year. One-third of this is exported, equating to €200 million and providing employment for over 300,000 individuals. With a 6,000-year history of producing feta, Greece proudly claims this cheese as a key aspect of its rich cultural tapestry.

Background

The recent court decision can trace its origins to a 2019 lawsuit initiated by the European Commission, supported by Greece and Cyprus, against Danish feta. The core of the argument was the violation of the EU's protected status for feta. Denmark had countered, stating that restrictions on cheese exports, which average a massive 85,000 tons yearly, would hinder trade, particularly to countries like India, Indonesia, and the US.


Sources:

112,113,118,122,125,126,131,116