Would a bratwurst by any other name taste as sweet?
Cheese, brat and beer manufacturers around the country could be forced to find out if a European trade deal is approved.
A provision of the European Union trade deal calls for American companies producing foods with names originating from Europe such as Oktoberfest, bratwurst, provolone, feta and parmesan to be reserved solely for products produced in Europe.
Mark Stephenson, University of Wisconsin director of dairy policy analysis, said if such restrictions were implemented on American food manufacturers, Wisconsin food manufacturing sales would be seriously impacted, especially Wisconsin’s cheese makers.
“I think the biggest concern would be that consumers would have a difficult time finding the product that they like and that they’re used to, so you could potentially lose sales,” Stephenson said.
The EU made similar demands in trade negotiations with Canada, but they ultimately reached an agreement that grandfathered in existing names used by manufacturers but required new manufacturers to follow EU restrictions.
Kyle Stiegert, UW professor of agricultural and applied economics, said a one-sided agreement in the EU’s favor was unlikely.
“The agreement would clearly go two ways. If there were regionally distinct products from the U.S. that had labeling in Europe that were capturing those brands, the U.S. would not sign on to that agreement,” he said.
American reactions to the European demand have been almost entirely negative, with U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., sending letters to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative that demanded the restrictions to America’s beer, cheese and meat industries be rejected.
While the letter on beer was signed and sent solely by Baldwin, the letters on meat and cheese each received more than 40 signatures from senators, with the letter on cheese topping 50 signatures.
“We must reject any proposal that limits our Wisconsin businesses’ ability to export and compete both domestically and internationally,” Baldwin said in a statement. “I am standing up for Wisconsin brats, beer and cheese.”
Wisconsin state legislators based in Madison shared Baldwin’s concerns, including state Rep. Lee Nerison, R-Westby.
Nerison, chair of the Assembly Committee on Agriculture and a former dairy farmer, said Wisconsin is proud of its international reputation for quality cheeses and banning names of certain cheese names is unnecessary.
“I can’t think of any good reason why the [EU] needs to do this. Fair competition never hurt anybody,” he said.
In a statement, both the U.S. Export Dairy Council and the National Milk Producers Federation lauded the Senate’s effort to push back on the EU trade demands.
Jim Mulhern, National Milk Producers Federation president and CEO, strongly opposed the naming restrictions and said American businesses should have the opportunity to offer their products and let consumers decide what they want to buy.
“No one country has any right to own common food names for their exclusive use,” Mulhern said in a statement.