Denmark has failed to fulfil its obligations under EU law by continuing to sell feta cheese to third countries, according to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
The ECJ ruled that feta is Greek, even when intended for sale outside the bloc. The judgement comes some 20 years after the name feta as registered as a protected designation of origin (PDO), meaning that feta could only be used for Greek cheese made according to product specs.
The infringement claim saw the Commission, backed by Greece and Cyprus, argue that Denmark was in breach of its obligations to prevent or stop the use of the designation for cheese it intended to export outside the bloc.
From Denmark’s perspective, it was within its rights to do so, contending that Regulation No 1151/2021 applies only to products sold within the EU and does not cover exports to third countries.
The EU’s top court did not agree. PDOs and protected geographical indications (PGIs) are protected as intellectual property right, stressed the ECJ, adding that by using the PDO feta to designate products in the EU which do not comply with the product specification of that PDO undermines the PDO and PGI objectives.
Greece will be celebrating the ruling, given the importance of feta to its export market and to its culinary tradition.
Produced wither exclusively from sheep’s milk, or from a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk (max 30 percent goat’s milk), the cheese is considered the mainstay of livestock, with 80 percent of sheep and goat milk production directed to the making of feta.
The flagship of Greece’s geographical indications, feta accounts for roughly 10 percent of Greek food exports.