The fears come after the term Danbo was recently registered as a protected geographic indication (GI), meaning only Danish companies will be able to use it.
Even though Danbo is not produced in large volumes in New Zealand, the European Union may push to register popular cheese names such as mozzarella and parmesan.
Fonterra exported 51,000 tonnes of cheese to China, mostly mozzarella, making it the clear leader among exporters, above Australia, the United States and France. It exports enough cheese to top half the pizzas (about 300 million) made in China each year.
Fonterra director of global stakeholder affairs Phil Turner said the dairy giant shared the industry’s concern about what would happen to many other common cheese varieties that have long been produced in New Zealand and elsewhere around the world.
“We have no issue with GIs that are genuinely unique to a particular geography, but to provide certainty for producers and consumers we need to ensure that no one can claim exclusive rights to cheese names that are clearly generic.”
Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand (DCANZ) executive director Kimberly Crewther said Danbo had been manufactured in New Zealand since the 1960s.
“While New Zealand is not a large producer of Danbo, we are significant producers of many other common cheese varieties which have European origins for their name, like parmesan and mozzarella.”
“Can we now expect the EU to seek similar protection for other common cheese names, which have been manufactured and exported by producers in New Zealand and elsewhere for many years?” Crewther asked.
The registration of a cheese as a geographic indicator means it can be sold only in Europe by producers from a certain region. However the EU wants to go further and extend this protection to other markets via trade agreements.
Hawke’s Bay company Hohepa manufactures the cheese, which is one of its lead varieties. Business manager Neil Kirton said it could have a material impact if the company could no longer use the name, which it had been doing for the last four years.
“It could be like wine names such as champagne, and that would be problematic for acceptance of our particular lead line, even into the domestic market. Perhaps we’ll rebrand it as Rambo,” he said.
Crewther said DCANZ had no problem about GIs if they were tied to a particular geographic area, such as parmigiano reggiano and mozzarella di bufala di Campagna.
The Danes had changed their minds over Danbo and other varietal names. At one stage they had developed a Danbo industry in Uruguay through an aid programme, and they had once objected to moves to protect feta, saying it was a generic varietal name.
New Zealand’s largest cheese export is cheddar. At least one variety called Orkney Islands – Scottish, has been registered.
“We submitted we had no issue with the registration of that variety because it was a compound name, but we would have concern if the protection was extended to the use of the singular term cheddar,” Crewther said.
“There’s uncertainty at the way this system is developing and what we are seeing is the risk to significant commercial value that exporters outside the EU have invested in marketing these cheeses.”
DCANZ joined counterpart organisations from Uruguay, Australia, and the US in objecting to the registration of Danbo cheese.