Farmers Julie and Sandy Cameron established their now well-known Meredith Dairy business back in 1991, and for a few years they made different cheeses with the milk from the sheep and goats that roamed their paddocks. At first they called it feta.
But a decade or so after the Victorian business was established, and as the European Union introduced strict limitations on the use of the word feta in the EU, the Camerons made a pre-emptive call that looks increasingly wise.
They decided to ditch the word feta from their cheese labels, despite its level of awareness and popularity among Australian cheese lovers.
But the change to the labels on their cheese packaging – at first they made three cheeses they labelled “feta” – was a measured transition that occurred step-by-step, not overnight, so that consumers could still recognise the Meredith Dairy cheese they had been buying. For a while, Meredith Dairy ran dual names on their labels.
“We chose to do it in small steps, so that people could continue to recognise it when they were buying it,” Mrs Cameron said.
A few years on, the changes made by Meredith Dairy are likely to be considered by other Australian dairy producers, after news emerged that Australia and the European Union are set to launch trade talks in pursuit of a free trade agreement that could reportedly add $15 billion to both economies.
And as many Australian agricultural producers had long expected, the EU has signalled that it will push for more rights that protect European names which are expected to include parmesan cheese, Parma ham, feta and others.
Mr Cameron said he was not at all surprised by the European push on food names. “I would have been surprised if they did not include it,” he said.
“What the Europeans are asking of us is no different to what they ask of themselves,” he said.
“We just thought that it was inevitable, that eventually we wouldn’t be able to use the word feta. So we were proactive, in making sure that whatever word we called this cheese that it would have longevity,” Mrs Cameron said.
“We just thought ‘well, we’re not going to call it feta because it’s not feta,’ so we’re going to describe it as it is, because Australians at the time didn’t eat a lot of goat’s cheese. So we thought … we’ll call it what it is so that people know what they’re buying,” she said.
But the EU push to protect food names that are often tied to geographic regions, known in trade language as “geographic indications”, is generating concern among some people in Australian agriculture.
Group manager for trade and industry strategy at Dairy Australia, Charlie McElhone, said while he understood this move was important to the EU, so-called “geographic indications” rules and regulations are “a mechanism that we believe is actually designed to restrict trade”.
Australian producers who produce these “common cheeses” should retain the right to use words such as parmesan and feta to describe them, he said.
By: Darren Gray
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald