What are Geographical Indications?
A Geographical Indication (GI) identifies a product as originating in a specific region where a particular quality, reputation or other characteristic is attributable to the region. This is best illustrated with an example from the wine industry, where champagne and burgundy are both now protected GIs, and cannot be used by Australian wine producers.
Through negotiations towards an Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement, the EU is seeking to implement a restrictive and anti-competitive Geographical Indications (GIs) regime on Australian dairy products. If successful, the use of common food names, including names of cheeses commonly produced in Australia; such as Feta, Parmesan, Gruyere, Haloumi may be restricted.
There could also be restricted use of packaging and labelling that are judged to evoke an image of a particular EU product in the mind of the consumer, e.g., flags, colours or images that evoke European nations.
How could this impact Australia’s dairy industry?
A strict agreement on GIs has the potential to significantly impact Australia’s dairy industry; the effects felt by farmers, manufacturers, cheese makers, chefs, food service professionals and retailers across the country.
The potential direct cost to the industry is significant, ranging from reduced demand for raw food products, decreased company sales and revenue, re-branding and re-packaging costs, re-marketing expenses and more. The cost to the industry could range from $70 million - $90 million per annum in the early years of the regime being implemented.
Estimates suggest industry revenue from the imposition of the regime could see Gross Regional Production across Australia drop by over $220 million and dairy employment decline by 640 – 1,000 people.
We’ve asked some Australian dairy stakeholders how they feel about the Geographical Indications regime and its impacts on their business. Read more below.
Mauro Montalto - Floridia Cheese Co
Mauro is a cheese maker at Floridia Cheese Co, a family business that has been producing traditional Italian cheese products since 1955. Floridia's origins trace back to Sicily, Italy, where Mauro’s grandfather first began making cheese. After migrating to Australia and bringing his skills, recipes, and methods with him, his traditions have been passed down through his family to turn the business into the respected and authentic Italian cheese manufacturer it is today.
For a family business like Floridia, the proposed GI regime would affect more than just the names of the products they produce. Known for being 'Traditionally Italian, Proudly Australian', Floridia is proudly based upon its Italian heritage and history, yet under the strict GI regime, so many aspects of their business, including their logo and packaging, might need to be changed. After successfully operating in Australia for over 60 years, Mauro and his family are concerned about what the GI regime could mean for the future of their business.
"It would greatly affect our export market if we weren't able to use the traditional names that our customers come to us for, but there would also be so many expenses involved in rebranding and repackaging all of our existing products."
"A major concern is also having to re-educate the consumer. Many of our customers come to us because they're looking for authentic Italian cheeses, and without being able to use the traditional names or showcase our Italian heritage through our products, how do we appeal to them?"
"I honestly think [the proposed GI regime] is a big slap in the face, and I find it a little bit insulting. The recipes that we use are what our grandfather handed down to us, and we're very dedicated to upholding our Italian traditions – so why should we have to change what we call our products?"
Hakim Halim - RIPE Cheese
Hakim is a cheesemonger at RIPE Cheese, an exclusively Australian cheese retailer that stocks over 50 varieties of Australian cheese. Hakim, a digital marketer by trade and lover of all things food, decided to start RIPE when he discovered that no other retailer in the country (or the world) only features and supports Australian cheese products. A self-described champion of the Australian dairy industry, Hakim's passion is sharing the story of the local cheese makers he supports with his customers, and allowing them to experience all the amazing cheeses that our country has to offer.
If the proposed GI regime comes into effect, the biggest issue a retailer like Hakim would face is having to completely re-educate consumers on new names for each type of cheese, without being able to use the European names they are currently familiar with as a guide. He worries that without being able to reference popular cheeses like feta, halloumi or parmesan as they're traditionally known, it will be challenging to convince Australian consumers to opt for locally made products under a different name.
"As a cheese retailer I already find it challenging to convince Aussies to buy locally produced cheese; consumers are so familiar with the European names that often this is exclusively what they want to purchase, so to restrict the use of these names would be a challenge for Australian consumers and businesses alike."
"If this comes into effect and locally produced dairy will need to be sold under new names, I think it will take years for Australian consumers to become familiar with, let alone consider purchasing, Australian-made cheese."
Russell Smith - Judge and International Cheese Consultant
Russell is an International Cheese Consultant, who judges cheese competitions around the globe, and is the Chief Judge of the Australian Grand Dairy Awards, Australia’s most prestigious dairy competition. Russell discovered his love of cheese through his cheese retail and distribution business where his passion drove him to spend two years gaining a certificate in cheesemaking.
Now, Russell spends time each year travelling to the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia to judge World Cheese Championships and runs cheese and sensory education training for dairy buyers, retailers and other professionals.
“I believe the introduction of Geographical Indications would mean three key things for Australian cheese, a loss of heritage, confusion for consumers and ultimately loss of local products off our shelves.
Imposing GIs would mean denying [the affected] cheeses their heritage and origins. Both the European Union and the rest of the world should embrace cheese making traditions including the country from where they originated, while celebrating their acceptance in cultures other than the original country of origin.
The very rich heritage and the stories that go with the evolution of cheese making are an integral part of many consumers enjoyment and influence their individual choices. These stories should not be separated from the narrative or we diminish the history, politics, religious and the many other cultural aspects of our cheese history.
And it’s not just the cheeses that lose out. The immigrants, Greek, Italian, Swiss, Austrian, French, German and more who have brought their cheese culture and recipes with them over the last 60-70 years will experience not just the loss of connection with their cheese’s origins but an emotional and economic fallout.
As a retailer, I believe the re-naming of many of our cheese styles will result in confusion by the Australian consumer and by the time the public begin to understand what has happened, many of these products will have ceased to be manufactured in Australia. I don’t think it will take long for imported cheeses bearing the cheese names we have come to recognise to replace our Australian products.”
Bill Tzimas - Bill’s Farm Food ServiceBill, owner and founder of Bill’s Farm Food Service, first entered the cheese industry as a retailer 30 years ago, leaving behind a teaching career to follow his love of cheese. Eventually opening up his own store, Bill engages with chefs who come in up to three times a day to buy cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner services.
Over time, Bill’s Farm Food Service began to make its own local cheese, drawing inspiration from European methods to create cheeses like halloumi, feta, cheddar and parmesan.
“I absolutely love being a part of the dairy industry, nothing brings me more joy than seeing a new cheesemaker come into the industry, get creative with their cheesemaking styles and take a risk. I take pride in the fact that Bill’s Farm Food Service helps to support up and coming cheesemakers.”
“From a retail perspective, the proposed GI regime would be detrimental to Australian cheese makers. It has taken a great deal of time and hard work to help consumers recognise the quality of Australian-made cheese, and the proposed GI regime would undo all that. Consumers would have to completely relearn Australian cheeses.”
Stuart Burr - Dairy Farmer
Stuart is a dairy farmer located in Ringarooma, Tasmania and has been working in the dairy industry since leaving high school. At the age of 15, Stuart was introduced to dairy farming after starting a job on a local dairy farm and never looked back.
For the past 11 years, Stuart has been a share farmer who owns all the cattle and machinery to produce milk, which he supplies to Fonterra to produce cheese, creams, milks, and other dairy products.
Stuart is proud to be a part of the Australian dairy industry.
“I absolutely love getting to work outside and with animals. Being able to be my own boss at the same time makes it all the better.
If the GI regime were to succeed, I believe Australian consumers would be confused and as a result deterred from purchasing Aussie cheeses. The flow on effect to farmers would mean less demand and therefore less work.
Australians purchasing dairy products that come from Australian milk and are made right here provides the best return for Aussie farmers and local communities – and the GI regime would have a huge impact on that.”
It’s important for Australian dairy farmers and producers to be aware and engaged with GIs. The following resources provide more information about the proposed changes, and what it means for Australian dairy:
Dairy Australia, Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF), Australian Dairy Products Federation (ADPF) and state farming organisations are supporting Aussie dairy producers and continue to engage with the Australian Government and the broader dairy industry to increase awareness of the risks of an agreement on GIs. The industry seeks to ensure ongoing use of common food names that are part of the public domain, and the continued use of food names that can also legitimately be used in world markets.
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