Hard cheese for Stilton copycats

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The Independent Online
BRUSSELS (AP) - European Community agriculture ministers last night ended the heated debate on a European Commission proposal to protect the geographic origin of food. The ministers agreed that food products with trademarks, such as Britain's Stilton cheese, should be protected from competitors trying to imitate them.

They disappointed some gourmets and producers, however, by allowing products currently traded legally in Europe to continue to be made. For instance, while the Greeks claim that true feta cheese can be made only in Greece, feta has been considered generic and not reserved to Greek manufacturers. Yesterday's accord accepted the trade of 'agriculture products or foodstuffs already being legally marketed', thereby protecting Denmark's feta production, which is worth pounds 9m a year.

As a generic product, Camembert cheese is legally made in Britain, but a French producer would be allowed to tag an extra label on his product, such as 'Camembert de Normandie', and apply to the EC for trademark protection for his cheese. Opponents of the proposal to protect regional recipes and foodstuffs said that it contradicted the EC's plans for a single market.

The EC's former environment chief said cut-backs in environmental policies were suicidal, and he accused three EC leaders of hypocrisy, Reuter reports.

Carlo Ripa di Meana, who resigned as EC environment commissioner last month, made the comments in an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel, published yesterday.

He said there was a danger that governments would use the trend towards minimum intervention by the EC in its member states to weaken its achievements in environmental protection.

'Why have the big shots of international politics - the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and the British Prime Minister John Major - picked fights with a little commissioner?' Mr Ripa asked, referring to disputes over alleged infringements of environmental rules.

'Because this environmental coalition worked. They were disturbed in their hypocrisy,' Mr Ripa said. He said he had boycotted the Rio summit because the EC had nothing to contribute.