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Everything in its place for Europe's larder

A long-awaited European Commission decision on which countries own which foods and drinks was put off for a further week yesterday.

The potentially bitter dispute over plans to give "geographic protection" to more than 300 items at the recommendation of governments has been delayed until next Wednesday at the earliest.

If agreed, the scheme will mean Scotch beef must come from Scotland and Orkney lamb from Orkney. Nobody will be able to produce Blue and White Stilton cheeses, other than the acknowledged Stilton makers of Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

More controversially, Greece is trying to claim protection for Feta cheese, to the indignation of the Feta makers of Denmark. Yet the Cheddar cheese- makers of Somerset were forced long ago to concede that West Country emigres had exported their traditional methods across the world.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said: "It is a question of consumer protection really. If people think Scotch beef is high quality then they should be able to have confidence that that is what they are getting."

Angel Carro, spokesman for the EU Commission, said it also hoped to protect traditional industries and crafts in a similar way.

MAFF asked the British food and drink industry for suggestions and 26 have been now listed for registration. The commission has requested more information on other items, including Dorset Knob biscuits, Whitstable oysters and Cornish Yarg cheeses.

Olive Middleton, of the Stilton Cheese Makers' Association, said it very much hoped the measure would be agreed. "Stilton has always been made in our three counties. It is a uniquely English product and we will take any protection available."

John Cullen, of the David South Cheese Distribution Company, said special cheeses had to be protected but it was difficult to know how far to take it. "I know people who have won top prizes with Lancashire-made Cheshire, for example."

Meanwhile, Richard Gibb, of Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, which makes Newcastle Brown Ale, said: "We ship large quantities around the world and it seems right that we should protect our position."

Endangered species

British food and drinks which have applied to be registered for EU protection:

Fresh meat: Orkney beef and lamb; Scotch beef and lamb; Shetland lamb.

Cheeses: Beacon Fell Traditional Lancashire; Blue Stilton; Bonchester; Buxton Blue; Dovedale; Single Gloucester; Swaledale; Swaledale Ewes; West Country Farmhouse Cheddar; White Stilton.

Fruits, vegetables and cereals: Jersey Royal Potatoes.

Beer: Kentish Ale; Kentish Strong Ale; Newcastle Brown Ale; Rutland Bitter.

Ciders: Gloucestershire Cider & Perry; Hertfordshire Cider & Perry; Worcestershire Cider & Perry.