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Governor Scott Walker Will Fight European Union’s Attempt to Bully Wisconsin into Halting Use of Cheese Names
Tuesday, February 18th, 2014 -- 3:07 pm
Posted by Riley Hebert-News Director

(La Crosse Tribune) -Gov. Scott Walker will fight the European Union’s attempt to bully Wisconsin cheesemakers into halting the use of names such as havarti, feta, mozzarella and Parmesan.

According to the La Crosse Tribune, Walker said his administration would work with state agencies and dairy and cheese industry officials to protect the Badger State’s cheese market.

“Cheese is one of the few things we can do that is not date-specific,” with that longer shelf life making it an ideal export, Walker said Monday in response to a question about the EU’s move to block U.S. producers from using cheese names derived from European cities or regions.

Any move to undermine cheese producers will not go unchallenged, Walker said.

“That would be something to work on during a trade mission to Europe next year,” he said. “There are several countries we would want to work with to provide exports.”

He made the comments after touring D-Lux Screen Printing Inc. in Holmen, where he touted his “blueprint for prosperity” financial plan of property and income tax cuts.

Wisconsin is the top cheese-producing state in the country, accounting for just over one-fourth of the nation’s output. It ranks second in cheese exports, totaling nearly $150 million in 2012, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

The EU’s demands to protect geographical names aren’t new, but they have become a hot issue during negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The EU wants to bar U.S. producers from using names such as Parmesan, Muenster, havarti, Gorgonzola, Gouda and feta, among others. The argument is that, for instance, Parmesan hails from the Italian province of Parma, and feta is tied to areas of Greece.

“The European Union is trying to claw back,” said John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.

“This is becoming a bigger issue in the face of us becoming more mature in exporting, and the EU is reacting,” Umhoefer said during a phone interview Monday.

Wisconsin is the top producer of feta in the United States, accounting for 90 percent, Umhoefer said.

“The Greeks said a few years ago, ‘We are taking feta back,’” he said.

Another EU target is havarti, which is made in a dozen Wisconsin factories, he said.

“It’s an obscure issue until you realize it affects hundreds of millions of dollars in trade,” Umhoefer said.

Patrick Geoghegan, senior vice president of communications for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, said, “This poses a significant issue not only for cheesemakers but also for dairy farmers who have spent vast amounts of money educating consumers.

“We consider these generic terms,” he said “You can’t turn around and say you need to protect these names after they’ve been in (general use) for 100-plus years.”

If cheesemakers no longer could use the names, it would cost millions to re-educate consumers, Umhoefer and Geoghegan said.

“Cheese curds — that’s a Wisconsin product” Umhoefer said. “Maybe we should say that can be made only in Wisconsin.”

Even as agricultural exports become increasingly important, Walker said, businesses such as D-Lux are economic mainstays.

Jim Shuda began D-Lux in his garage in 1972, making temporary license plates for car dealerships. It now employs 32 people making a variety of graphics, signs, bumper stickers, decals and other products for more than 1,000 customers in the United States and Canada.

The plant has added $1.5 million in equipment in recent years, Shuda said.

Walker said his blueprint for using $800 million of the state’s $911 million surplus for tax cuts acknowledges the importance of such companies and their workers.

“We think you do a better job of stimulating the economy than we do in Madison,” he said. “We’re giving money back to you.”

Democrats and some Republicans have criticized Walker’s blueprint, saying money would be better spend on education and worker training.

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