Farmers warned to consider food names

By John Lewis

The region’s farmers have been warned to seriously consider the impacts of European moves to protect names such as feta and Scotch fillets.

Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham last week released the names of 172 foods and 236 spirits the European Union wants protected under a free trade agreement with Australia.

The list includes cheeses feta, blue Stilton, Brie and Camembert, meat products such as Scotch beef and prosciutto and spirits such as Fine Bordeaux and Scotch whisky, which refer to specific European districts.The EU has also confirmed it will push ahead in its quest for prosecco to be protected, despite the sparkling wine not appearing on the list.

Wunghnu’s Locheilan Cheese producer Ryan Lawless said he would have to give careful consideration to the naming of his products if the changes went ahead.

‘‘How do you define the difference between a Camembert and a Brie? What would you call it?’’ he said.

‘‘We would have to just call something triple cream instead of a specific name. But we’re lucky because people are familiar with our products and know what to order.'' 

Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell said it was ‘‘precious’’ of the EU to be controlling how people name foods.

‘‘Especially when the names of these foods have entered the common vernacular,’’ he said.

Mr Birrell was confident Goulburn Valley producers could more than match the quality of any European competition.

‘‘I can tell you that our local cheeses and wines are as good as, if not better, than anything I’ve tasted from Camembert or Bordeaux,’’ he said.

State Member for Euroa and Victorian Nationals’ deputy leader Steph Ryan said the Federal Government was seeking feedback on the impacts that might arise from the proposed agreement. Ms Ryan said producers had the chance to object to the protections the EU was trying to place on particular products.

‘‘There’s no doubt that market access to the EU would be a huge boon for many producers, but it is important that the rights of Australian farmers are not traded away,’’ she said.

National Farmers’ Federation chief executive Tony Mahar was concerned about  changes to food names, with feta a major worry for dairy producers.

‘‘Changes to require manufacturers and farmers to call it something like crumbly cheese in brine just would be devastating,’’ he said.

‘‘That would be such a change to the dynamics of the marketplace. We think that’s unfair.’’

The Australian Dairy Industry Council has put the potential impact of strict enforcement of new naming rules at up to $90 million a year in the early stages of a free trade deal.

The EU has warned Australia it was unlikely to offer major concessions for red meat, dairy, sugar and rice exports.

The United Kingdom’s claims, which include Scotch beef and lamb and blue Stilton cheese, would be dropped from this agreement if the UK leaves the EU as expected on October 31.