Denmark has lost an infringement procedure by the EU Commission. Reason: The country has done nothing to prevent cheese made in Denmark from being sold as feta cheese in third countries outside the EU. That was illegal, says the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Feta has been a protected designation of origin – in short: PDO – for a specific area in Greece for 20 years.
The name regulation also applies to exports to non-EU countries
The Danes had taken the view that the export of their fake feta cheese was only banned to EU countries and not to third countries outside the European Union. But there is nothing in the regulation, according to the judges at the highest European court in Luxembourg.
Appellations of origin and geographical indications aim to protect the intellectual property of their creators, including outside the Union. Denmark has compromised these goals by allowing feta cheese that isn't feta cheese to be exported—anywhere. Denmark must now ensure that the export of the banned feta cheese stops as soon as possible, otherwise there is a risk of another lawsuit and financial sanctions.
Greece and Cyprus supported the EU Commission's infringement action against Copenhagen. You benefit from the EU regulation that has been in force since 2002. According to this, feta cheese can only be called that if it is made from sheep's and/or goat's milk, has been aged in brine and has been produced in mainland Greece and the islands of the former Lesvos prefecture. Danish so-called feta, on the other hand, is almost exclusively made from cow's milk.
Protection for regional products, but no uniformity
The European Court of Justice also explains why it protects designations of origin and geographical designations. They aim to ensure a fair return for the quality of the products and to provide consumers with clear information about the product's value-adding features.
The ECJ case law is not really uniform – or at least not understandable to everyone. A Swabian whiskey may not call itself Glen Buchenbach because Glen – Gaelic for "narrow valley" – is exclusively Scottish. But Aceto Balsamico can also be called that if it was made in Germany, as long as it doesn't say "di Modena": This geographical indication is protected. After that it is also clear that Chianti must come from Tuscany. And Parma ham and Black Forest ham must, under certain conditions, at least be cut and packaged in Parma or in the Black Forest.