The European Commission announced Wednesday it will drag Denmark to the European Court of Justice over the sale of fake feta cheese outside the EU.
The cheese — typically made of sheep or sheep and goats’ milk — is protected under the EU’s lucrative system of geographical indications, meaning it can only be labeled as feta when produced under certain conditions in Greece, where it has been made for thousands of years.
But Denmark has “failed to prevent or stop” Danish companies from labeling cheese as feta and exporting it outside the EU, the Commission said in a statement.
“This conduct not only violates current EU law, but it is also likely to frustrate the ongoing negotiations between the European Union and third countries for the conclusion of bilateral agreements that ensure the protection of European PDOs [protected designations of origin] and the promotion of EU quality products outside the EU,” the Commission said.
Denmark’s Minister for Food Mogens Jensen said he could not comment on the fairness of his country’s referral to the EU court until he received all the legal papers from the Commission.
“There should be no doubt that I am concerned about looking after Danish jobs, but at the same time I also believe that we must comply with the rules that we have committed to in the EU. The final trade-off can only be made when we receive the application,” he said.
The crumbly cheese is the subject of decades of legal wrangling between Brussels and EU countries that want to call their own cheese feta.
In 1999, Germany, France and Denmark — all big cheese producers — won an appeal at the European Court of Justice (ECJ), overturning the EU’s first attempt to list feta as a protected Greek food. But the Commission later decided to re-list feta as a geographical indication, after consulting a scientific committee that concluded it was unique to Greece.
Feta is not the only cheesy geographical indication to feature at the ECJ. In May, the court outlawed marketing cheeses with images of Miguel de Cervantes’ fictional knight Don Quixote, ruling it dupes customers into believing they are buying EU-protected queso manchego.