French farmers take feta fight to court

  • 2002-12-12

Thousands of French farmers demonstrated Dec. 8 against a European Commission's decision banning them from using the name "feta" for a type of cheese they produce, as Paris prepared to challenge the ruling.

Between 4,000 and 5,000 farmers marched through the streets of Millau, the capital of France's sheep cheese production, according to the organizers, the Federation of Unions of Ewe Farmers (FRSEB).

In a letter sent to the mayor of Millau, Agriculture Minister Herve Gaymard agreed to fight the ruling by the European Union's executive arm.

"I have decided that France will take the case to the European Court of Justice along with Denmark, which will in the next few days seek an annulment of the commission's ruling," Gaymard wrote.

In October, the European Commission acceded to Greece's long-standing claim and granted the white brine feta cheese a "label of protected origin," meaning the name "feta" can be used only by farmers in designated parts of Greece using specific methods of production.

Greece argued that most feta cheese made outside the country - principally in Denmark and Germany - was produced with cow's milk and the use of the name was likely to mislead consumers.

The leader of the FRSEB, Jacques Bernat, welcomed the government's decision. "The Brussels decision was political, the response to it must be political," he said.

France has more than 530 "labels of protected origin" of its own - including such well-known names as champagne and roquefort - and has shown itself to be extremely combative in defending them.