Farm Bureau working to protect Ohio cheese producers

Some of Ohio’s cheese producers have been making cheese the way their European ancestors did many generations ago. Some even use the recipes they brought with them when they emigrated from Europe.

If the European Union has its way, U.S. cheese producers won’t be able to use European names such as Parmesan, asiago, feta and muenster because the EU says they are “geographical indications” and can only be displayed on products made in certain areas of Europe.

If the EU is successful in their stance during trade negotiations, common names for U.S. produced cheeses would have to change, creating consumer confusion, said Yvonne Lesicko, Ohio Farm Bureau’s senior director of state and national policy.

She said Ohio’s cheese producers are heavily invested in their operations and not being able to use traditional brand names would limit their ability to market their products in the United States and other countries. About a dozen Ohio cheese producers could be affected by the proposed change. In 2012 Ohio produced 198.9 million pounds of cheese, making it the nation’s 10th largest cheese producer.

The EU maintains that American-made cheeses are inferior to European brands, a notion that Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman dispute.

“Ohio dairy producers make some of the highest quality cheese in the world,” Brown said in a statement. “Their product is as good as any from Europe and should be given equal opportunity to compete in the food market.”

The Ohio senators joined more than 50 of their colleagues in signing a bipartisan letter that asks U.S. trade negotiators to fight the geographical naming restrictions.

“Agriculture is a major player in EU-U.S. free trade talks, and we need to make sure agriculture is treated fairly,” said Lesicko, who recently joined Cuyahoga County Farm Bureau members in talking with an EU trade representative about Ohio’s $1 billion dairy industry.