ARLINGTON, VA - U.S. lawmakers and food industry representatives gathered last Wednesday, March 1, on Capitol Hill for a bipartisan discussion on common food names in what turned out to be a landmark week in the battle to preserve U.S. food and beverage companies’ rights to use those names. Just two days later, a U.S. appeals court ruled the name “gruyere” is generic, blocking an attempt by Swiss and French consortiums to expropriate a common food name through a U.S. certification mark registration.
“The two developments are much-needed positive steps in our ongoing battle to protect the rights of U.S. dairy producers to use generic names at home and around the world,” said Krysta Harden, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC). “But as the speakers at Wednesday’s Hill event said, we need more focused and assertive U.S. government actions to counter growing common-name trade barriers and continue to protect the rights of American producers.”
Lawmakers, industry meet
The Hill meeting was organized by the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN, founded by USDEC), and Agri-Pulse. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Representatives Adrian Smith (R-NE) and Jim Costa (D-CA) spoke, along with Jeff Schwager, new CCFN chairman, Chad Vincent, CEO of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, representatives from the U.S. wine, meat and rice sectors, and Shawna Morris, CCFN senior director and USDEC senior vice president, Trade Policy.
“The EU has been the principal culprit in seeking to monopolize the use of generic terms,” said Jaime Castaneda, USDEC executive vice president, Policy Development and Strategy. “The EU has pursued an aggressive strategy of name restrictions with many of our trading partners. If the U.S. government doesn’t act, we may lose market access that was negotiated prior to the Europeans negotiating their own trade agreements.
“The EU position is hypocrisy at its best, and ‘gruyere’ is the perfect example,” Castaneda continued. “Although the Swiss allowed the French to use the name gruyere, neither the French nor the Swiss wanted us to use the name.”
The speakers 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. CCFN’s chairman also cited the farm bill as a possible means of spurring action on a proactive common names agenda.
The U.S. needs to prioritize common names in current and future trade negotiations, said Sen. Baldwin. “As the European Union is negotiating agreements with many of our trading partners and undermining export opportunities, we cannot wait on the sidelines as these deals get made,” she added.
As Castaneda noted in a CCFN press release
on the meeting, “The bipartisan message is 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.”
That message was further strengthened on Friday when 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 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.”
“This is an outstanding result for manufacturers and farmers here in the United States,” Harden said: “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.”
CCFN, USDEC and National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) hailed the ruling in a joint press release
. CCFN, backed by its member companies and both dairy organizations, committed significant resources to building the case for gruyere as a generic term and crafting a successful argument that non-European companies should retain their rights to make and sell the cheese in the Unitec States. The precedent-setting case was an important one for CCFN’s broader global efforts to preserve the use of a wide variety of generic names.
Explaining the common name threat
CCFN and its members support the protection of legitimate geographical indications but will continue to fight against efforts to build unfair trade barriers. CCFN created a 2.5 minute informational video
to explain the issue of common food names, the threat from the EU’s aggressive program to monopolize them and its own extensive efforts to preserve the rights of U.S. companies to continue using them.
In addition, prior to the Hill event, CCFN appointed Jeff Schwager as its new chairman. The former CEO of Wisconsin-based cheesemaker Sartori takes over from Errico Auricchio, president of fellow Wisconsin cheesemaker BelGioioso Cheese, who has led CCFN since its founding in 2012.
“While we face many challenges around the world, I’m optimistic because of the foundation that Errico has laid, and because of the commitment that our members have for this issue,” said Schwager. “The EU isn’t going to stop fighting, but neither are we.”
The U.S. Dairy Export Council is a non-profit, independent membership organization that represents the global trade interests of U.S. dairy producers, proprietary processors and cooperatives, ingredient suppliers and export traders. Its mission is to enhance U.S. global competitiveness and assist the U.S. industry to increase its global dairy ingredient sales and exports of U.S. dairy products. USDEC accomplishes this through programs in market development that build global demand for U.S. dairy products, resolve market access barriers and advance industry trade policy goals. USDEC is supported by staff across the United States and overseas in Mexico, South America, Asia, Middle East and Europe. The U.S. Dairy Export Council prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, disability, national origin, race, color, religion, creed, gender, sexual orientation, political beliefs, marital status, military status, and arrest or conviction record. www.usdec.org.