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EU ADVOCATE GENERAL CALLS FOR DISMISSAL OF PARMESAN CLAIM

On June 28, 2007, the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), Jan Mazak, called for the ECJ to dismiss claims brought by the European Commission that the term "Parmesan" cannot be used to describe some hard cheeses made in Germany. The European Commission brought the case against Germany to enforce a 1996 decision in favor of Italy that provided that "Parmesan" cheese could only be produced in the protected production zone in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia and Modena in their entirety and portions of the provinces of Bologna and Mantua, and in accordance with strict production specifications.

Germany has consistently argued that only the term "Parmigiano Reggiano" is protected under EU legislation and that the use of "Parmesan", alone, or any translation of that word, has become generic and not capable of being protected. Germany also argues that even if "Parmigiano" on its own is protected that "Parmesan" is a different word which has become generic in Germany and elsewhere in the EU.

The decision could set an important precedent for other disputes over the geographical indications (GI) system, adopted by the European Union (EU) to restrict the manufacture of certain products to geographical areas or methods needed to preserve quality. The GI system is broken down into classifications on protected designations of origin (PDO) such as Roquefort cheese, protected geographical indication (PGI) such as Neucastle Brown Ale, and traditional specialty guaranteed (TSG) food and drink products.

Advocate General Mazak concluded that Germany had failed to provide sufficient evidence that "Parmesan" has become a generic term for hard cheese. Nevertheless, the Advocate General rejected the Commission's claim that Germany had violated EU regulations by formally refusing to prosecute companies for using the designation "Parmesan" on cheese not complying with the PDO requirements for "Parmigiano Reggiano." Rather, Mazak concluded that the EU regulation lacks any such requirement to prosecute.

The ECJ, which usually follows the determinations of the Advocate General, will decide the issue once and for all later this year.