Bipartisan Group of Members of Congress Introduce Legislation to Strengthen Common Name Protection in Upcoming Farm Bill

A coalition of American agricultural organizations hail introduction of legislation to proactively establish protections for foods and beverages using common terms in export markets.

ARLINGTON, VA – The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) and allied organizations commend today’s introduction of the Safeguarding American Value-Added Exports (SAVE) Act to promote the protection of common names in the 2023 Farm Bill. Led in the Senate by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Tina Smith (D-MN) and led in the House by Representatives Dusty Johnson (R-SD), Jim Costa (D-CA), Michelle Fischbach (R-MN) and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), the language would explicitly direct USDA Foreign Agricultural Services (FAS) to work with the U.S. Trade Representative to include the protection of commonly used terms like “parmesan”, “chateau” and “bologna” as a priority in international negotiations. This is the first farm bill effort on common names.

“The lack of strong action by previous administrations has allowed the European Union to misuse and abuse its geographical indications, hurting U.S. exporters in several markets,” said Jaime Castaneda, Executive Director of CCFN. “This new emphasis on protecting common names is a much-needed step in the right direction to ensure that our producers can sell their products in markets around the world.”

The proposed language would amend the Agricultural Trade Act of 1978 to define “common names” and direct the Secretary of Agriculture to coordinate with the U.S. Trade Representative to proactively defend the right to use common names for agricultural commodities or food products in international markets.

“For years, the European Union has been using illegitimate GIs to boost its own producers at the expense of others, putting a tremendous political priority on giving European companies a leg up over producers in the U.S. and other countries,” noted Castaneda. “It is time that our government takes a more proactive approach to tackling this challenge so that we can turn the tide to stand up for food and beverage producers relying on common names.”

  • Many agricultural producers in the United States and around the world depend on common food and beverage terms – such as parmesan, chateau, or bologna – to market and sell their products.
  • Since 2009, the EU has used trade negotiations and intellectual property rules to confiscate common names for their own producers – essentially monopolizing certain products in specific markets.
  • For American farmers and producers, this leads to lost opportunities overseas and expensive fights domestically, in addition to fewer choices for consumers.
  • Recently, there has been significant efforts from the private sector to defend common names, including a favorable U.S. Court of Appeals ruling and actions by congressional champions on Capitol Hill.

Court of Appeals Extends Huge Victory for Worldwide Producers of “Gruyere”

ARLINGTON, VA – Today, the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and a coalition of other dairy stakeholders prevailed in their ongoing battle to protect the right of producers to use generic names in the U.S. market.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the prior decisions of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in finding “gruyere” to be a generic term for a variety of cheese. The Fourth Circuit’s clear decision should put an end to the attempt by Swiss and French consortiums to expropriate a common food name through a U.S. certification mark registration.

The Fourth Circuit found that the evidence “is ‘so one-sided’ that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and Opposers must prevail as a matter of law.” The Court reasoned that the “the common usage of gruyere ‘establish[es] that when purchasers walk into retail stores and ask for [gruyere], they regularly mean’ a type of cheese, and not a cheese that was produced in the Gruyère region of Switzerland and France.” The Fourth Circuit concluded that “the Consortiums cannot overcome what the record makes clear: cheese consumers in the United States understand ‘GRUYERE’ to refer to a type of cheese, which renders the term generic.”

For over a decade, well-resourced European interests have attempted to confiscate common names to prevent non-European producers from using long-established generic terms, essentially monopolizing the ability to produce certain products for producers in limited and specific regions.

This decision reinforces that generic terms like “gruyere” refer to types of food, and a method of production regardless of where they are produced.

“The United States remains a bastion for the defense of consumers’ and producers’ property rights that have been trampled in Europe and many countries around the world,” said Jaime Castaneda, executive director for CCFN. “The court has sent a clear message that European attempts to stop American producers from using generic food names in the U.S. will be firmly rejected. It is a momentous victory for American consumers, farmers and food manufacturers.”

With support from USDEC, NMPF, CCFN member companies and other allies, CCFN committed the necessary resources to show the widespread use of gruyere in the U.S. marketplace, and craft the successful argument that non-European consumers and companies should retain their rights to consume produce and sell gruyere in the United States.

“This is an outstanding result for manufacturers and farmers here in the United States,” stated Krysta Harden, president and CEO of USDEC. “We’re grateful that the Appeals Court agreed that nobody owns the exclusive right to use generic terms. This sets a terrific precedent for the right to use common food names in the United States. Now we need other countries to likewise stand up for what’s right and defend that use just as strongly.”

“Today’s announcement represents a significant win for America’s dairy farmers,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF. “NMPF rejects blatant European attempts to unjustly limit competition from American companies and will continue to fight alongside our allies to oppose efforts to monopolize common name foods.”

CCFN and its members support the protection of legitimate geographical indications but will continue to fight against efforts to build unfair trade barriers. You can learn more with an informational video on CCFN found here.

Congress and Food Producers Insist on Need for Robust U.S. Steps to Protect Common Names

ARLINGTON, VA – The Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) and Agri-Pulse joined congressional leaders on Capitol Hill today to discuss the efforts by certain trading partners to monopolize common food and beverage names under the guise of deeming them geographical indications. The event highlighted the need for more focused and assertive U.S. government actions to counter these growing trade barriers and protect the rights of American producers.

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS), Representative Jim Costa (D-CA) and Representative Adrian Smith (R-NE) joined CCFN members and partners to underscore the importance of a strong and coordinated U.S. government response to protect American farmers and businesses from unfair competition arising from GI abuse. Joining the lawmakers in calling for increased U.S. engagement on the issue were Jeff Schwager, CCFN Chairman; Charles Jefferson, VP for Federal & International Public Policy for the Wine Institute; Derek Sohnrey, California rice producer representing USA Rice; and Michael Schumpp, Director of International Affairs for North American Meat Institute; and Chad Vincent, CEO of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.

Jaime Castaneda, Executive Director of CCFN, noted that, “The European Union has been the principal culprit in seeking to monopolize the use of generic terms such as “parmesan,” “bologna,” and “chateau” by not only barricading its own market against use of the common terms but also deploying trade negotiations to incite other countries to impose similar bans on legitimate competition in their own markets… Others have followed suit; for instance, India has sought to restrict the use of the widely known rice varieties “basmati”. These tactics harm the ability of U.S. producers to compete fairly around the world.”

The event participants underscored the need for the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to proactively establish with U.S. trading partners strong protections for common names, using whatever tools are necessary to preserve access for U.S. exports to those markets.

“We thank Senators Baldwin and Marshall and Representatives Smith and Costa for their leadership in protecting the rights of American farmers and food producers to use product names that have been in the public domain for generations,” said Castaneda. “The bipartisan message today rang loud and clear: The U.S. will not tolerate the EU’s efforts to bar U.S. companies from global customers by misappropriating widely used common names, and immediate actions are needed by the U.S. government to effectively tackle the EU’s harmful tactics.”

Marking a Decade of Defending Common Food Names

meat-and-cheeseAs part of celebrating its ten-year anniversary, CCFN spoke with dairy and agriculture media about the importance of defending common food names and pushing back against the EU’s attempts to confiscate generic names from American producers.

For Hoard’s Dairyman, Executive Director Jaime Castaneda and Chairman Errico Auricchio discussed CCFN’s roots, its progress over the last decade and the organization’s operating philosophy.

In an interview with the Cheese Reporter, Castaneda argued for deeper engagement from the U.S. government to complement CCFN’s work and match the EU’s zeal on this issue. He also spoke about what CCFN’s role may look like down the road.

Finally, as a guest on Agri-Pulse’s podcast, Open Mic Interview, Auricchio shared his story of bringing his family’s tradition of producing fine cheeses to the United States in the late 1970s, and how CCFN is pressing Congress and the Administration to be better global advocates for food and beverage companies that rely on export markets.

Featuring Common Name Cheeses in Europe

usdec-in-parisCCFN member, the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), sent a delegation of staff and members to Europe in October to discuss strengthening trade relations and promoting more common-sense policies around food regulations and sustainability. The trip culminated in a policy dialogue and reception in Paris, where USDEC’s President and CEO, Krysta Harden, spoke to the attendees about the legitimacy of common food names, among other messages designed to foster smoother trading conditions. USDEC and the U.S. embassy followed up the policy discussion with a reception showcasing the high quality of many common name cheeses – including parmesan, asiago, and fontina – sourced from several American companies. The combination event, coupled with participation by several CCFN members at the Paris SIAL trade show that week, helped to underscore the breadth and open eyes to the top-notch taste of many non-European cheeses.

CCFN Pushes the Philippines to Reject Harmful Regulations

phillipine-flagFollowing a multi-year process of engagement by CCFN, the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines issued final geographical indication regulations, which took effect November 20.

The new regulations establish a GI protection system that:

  1. Does not provide automatic GI protection, including for terms identified in a trade agreement, and
  2. Lays out a process requiring transparency steps and opposition procedures.

CCFN has participated in filing comments and testifying at hearings throughout multiple rounds of revisions to the regulations, in addition to working with the U.S. government to secure bilateral commitments regarding due process considerations for GIs and common names. Most recently, CCFN wrote to the Philippines in November to underscore finer points of the final regulations that merit consideration as implementation commences. The final set of regulations creates a framework that has various pro-GI elements included in it yet also certain tools for defending the rights of common name users.

The Philippines has a track record of protecting the use of common food names, a practice that benefits both its trading partners and its own domestic food industry. Building upon this, CCFN will continue to engage with Filipino officials to minimize any potential impacts of the new regulations on common name users.