U.S. lawmakers wheel into action, take on EU cheese name plan

WASHINGTON Tue Mar 11, 2014 8:18pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Would a Stilton cheese by any other name smell as sweet?

In a rare act of bipartisan unity, dozens of U.S. senators have wheeled into action against what they call an "absurd" European initiative that would force name changes to common cheese varieties produced in the United States.

The European Union says that names such as asiago, feta, parmesan and muenster are "geographical indicators" that should only be displayed on products made in specific areas of Europe, and not by their U.S.-made counterparts.

The request grated on the U.S. lawmakers.

"Can you imagine going into a grocery store and cheddar and provolone are called something else?" said Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican.

Toomey and Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, rallied more than half of the 100-member Senate to urge U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to fight the EU cheese-naming proposal.

Canada agreed recently to impose restrictions on the use of "feta" and other common cheese names, but the senators said for the United States, no whey.

"Many small- or medium-sized family-owned farms and firms could have their business unfairly restricted by the EU's push to use geographical indications as a barrier to dairy trade and competition," they said.

The senators said their action was supported by Kraft Foods Group, Denver-based Leprino Foods, the world's largest mozzarella maker, and groups such as the National Milk Producers Association, U.S. Dairy Export Council, and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

"Muenster is Muenster, no matter how you slice it," Schumer said on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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