EU court scolds Denmark for feta labels in Greece win

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Twenty years after feta was recognized as exclusively Greek, the EU’s highest court went a step further, announcing that Denmark would be breaking the law if it continued to allow dairies to sell counterfeit feta outside the bloc.

In Athens, the news caused immediate joy. “This is a wonderful day for authentic feta cheese,” said Christos Apostolopoulos, who heads the Greek Dairy Industries Association, which produces 80% of the country’s stock. “We are very happy and delighted. Our complaints have finally been heard.”

Greece has long argued that it has history on its side. Crumbly white cheese, most commonly a mixture of sheep’s and goat’s milk, was first recorded in the 8th century BC. C. and was mentioned by Homer in the Odyssey. Aristotle is said to have delighted in its characteristic taste and texture.

A staple of the ancient world, it has been an integral part of Hellenic cuisine ever since, surpassing traditional Greek salads and filling traditional Greek pastries, including the spinach cheesecakes that line the shelves of most shops. bakeries. No tavern would be worth its salt, or brine, if feta wasn’t on its menu.

“Almost no table [of patrons] that does not order it,” said Ioannis Filokostas, president of the restaurateurs’ union in Thessaloniki, Greece’s northern metropolis. “The logic of the European court was totally correct. History has shown that it is clearly a Greek product and for us this is clearly a good decision. Why should Denmark rip off our product?

Before the ruling, the Athens Ministry of Agriculture had described the spicy cheese as an iconic creation of the country.

Feta was given the designation of being a designated Greek product with a protected designation of origin, or PDO, by the EU executive in 2002, a move that many thought would give it legal certainty between member states.

But neither that, nor outrage in Greece, have stopped Denmark from exporting its own “feta” to territories outside the EU, with Copenhagen responding that the export ban amounted to a barrier to trade.

In 2019, the dispute deepened after the commission decided to take the case to the European Court of Justice, the bloc’s highest court, with the support of Athens and Nicosia.

Three years later, the judges of the Luxembourg-based court delivered their verdict. On Thursday they declared that with its position, Denmark was hindering not only the right of Greek producers to a fair income, but also the EU’s own position in talks with trading partners. “By failing to stop the use of the ‘feta’ designation for cheese intended for export to third countries, Denmark has failed to meet its obligations under EU law,” they said.

Earlier this year, the court gave a preview of Thursday’s decision when its attorney general, Tamara Capeta, advised that Denmark broke European law by labeling white cheese exports as “feta.”

“Feta was registered as a protected designation of origin (PDO) in 2002,” Capeta said in March. “Since then, the name ‘feta’ can only be used for cheese originating from the specified geographical area in Greece and meeting the corresponding production specification.”

An estimated 30,000 Greek farmers produce some 130 tons of feta cheese a year, according to data from the Greek Dairy Industries Association. “Our organization represents about 95% of our total exports,” said Apostolopoulos. “What Denmark has been doing is a total fraud. The only way their companies can keep selling the product is if they call it ‘white cheese in brine’.”

The Danes have been marketing their “feta” since 1963, making the cheese from pasteurized cow’s milk. In Greece, feta cheese is produced from unpasteurized sheep’s milk or a mixture of sheep’s and goat’s milk, and then curdled with rennet. Greek dairies have discovered that Danish imitation feta is being sold as far afield as Australia, home to a large Greek diaspora. “Their cheese has reached markets in the Middle East, Africa and Australia,” Apostolopoulos said, expressing fears that Danish multinationals will continue to make the cheese in production units set up outside the EU.

In recent years, Greek exports of feta cheese have increased dramatically and more than 65% of the total production is now sold abroad.

“I think we can meet some of [those markets’] needs with authentic feta cheese,” said Apostolopoulos. “It is very important that we start bilateral talks with the countries that host these factories to make it clear that they break EU laws if they continue to produce fake feta cheese.”

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