The battle of feta!


In 2002 a European ruling recognized feta cheese as a Greek branded product under the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. Prior to the ruling, the battle for feta had been going on for thirteen years because of challenges with other European Union nations. 

Other EU countries like Denmark, France, and Germany had also been producing cheese under the name of feta. A PDO status offers a country with a unique product the ability to establish its quality within the market utilizing the unique elements of the product and to limit the competition of imitation products.

However, Denmark and France were not willing to give up the battle as they continued to appeal this decision to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), in hopes of reversing Greece’s full rights over feta cheese. 

The PDO journey

  • In 1994, Greece asked for feta to be protected under a PDO status and was accepted by the European Commission in 1996. Denmark, Germany and France contested & appealed the decision. 
  • On March 16, 1999, the ECJ reversed the decision of feta as a cheese of unique Greek origin because of the challenge from these other European Union nations. In turn the Commission conducted a survey in all EU nations to determine the association with the term “feta,” whether Greek or not? The Greek ministry of dairy products prepared research and evidence of feta’s Greek origin to defend their position. 
  • On July 27, 2002, after this evidence had been submitted, the EU agricultural ministers voted on the feta issue, but the ruling was not given to Greece. The Commission then took control of the issue and determined that in September PDO would be granted to Greece. 
  • On October 14, 2002 it was officially decided that feta cheese is a Greek product, which can be produced only in certain parts of Greece with specified regulations. Other nations were given five years to change the name of their “feta” cheese or stop production.

The main argument that Greece offered towards the case was that Greece:  

  • Had placed quality regulations on the production of their feta since 1935 whereas Denmark did not regulate feta until 1963. 
  • Feta production is restricted to primarily sheep milk and some goat milk, while other countries use cow milk in the process.
  • The methods of production are unique to Greece. 
  • In 2001, only three EU countries compose 97% of the production of goat’s milk including Greece, Spain, and France. These statistics indicate that Greece is one of the largest goat milk producers, which is a main component in the regulation of feta cheese production.

The ruling was a victory for Greece, where feta is believed to have been produced from a blend of sheep and goat milk for around 6,000 years.

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