The end of New Zealand feta?

The New Zealand government is currently working towards a free-trade deal with the European Union, which would boost the New Zealand economy by opening up a whole new export market, but could spell bad news for local cheese producers.

“There will be about half a dozen names out of two thousand names between wine and food products that we will have to have a conversation about,” said European Union agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan. “The European Union is always in a position to be able to find solutions on these names.”

The issue is the Geographical Indications law in the EU, which means that if it’s not from a certain place, you can’t call it a certain name. Some well-known examples include Scotch Whiskey, Parma ham, and Roquefort cheese.

In Canada, where the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement was signed in 2016, cheese producers have managed to get away with it by labelling their products as ‘styled’ products – Feta-style cheese, Parmesan-style cheese.

Hogan also explained that there are advantages for consumers to know that what they’re getting is the real deal.

“There are advantages – the farmer gets a premium price for his product, and the ingredients which go into the product have been used in keeping with traditions and also local conditions.”

New Zealand passed similar legislation in 2006, but it wasn’t until last year that the government passed the necessary amendment to make it enforceable. The measures will mainly apply to the wine industry, protecting area brands like Central Otago and Marlborough, and will apply to wine sold in the EU should the deal go ahead – potentially protecting a large market for New Zealand winemakers.