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State legislators back Wisconsin cheesemakers in food fight with EU

State legislators back Wisconsin cheesemakers in food fight with EU

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A joint resolution defending the use of common brand names by American cheesemakers was introduced by the state Legislature Wednesday afternoon.

The resolution was a reaction to the European Union's demands during negotiations for a new trade agreement that Americans come up with new names for popular cheeses and other common food names made in the U.S. that are historically associated with a place or region in Europe. 

Co-sponsored by Rep. Warren Petryk, R-Eleva, and Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, the resolution urges U.S. negotiators who are working out details of a new trade agreement with the EU, to "combat inappropriate restrictions on the use of common food names where any barriers to trade and commerce take the form of geographic indications or other similarly unjustified regulatory impediments."

American cheesemakers who make cheeses like Asiago, Feta, Fontina, Gorgonzola, Gruyère, Muenster, Parmesan, Cheddar, Edam, Gouda and Mozzarella would all need to find new names for their products if the EU gets its wish during negotiations. That would threaten Wisconsin's $59 billion dairy industry, which plays a critical role in the state's economy, the resolution said.

The resolution, which was referred to the Assembly's Committee on Rules, was appreciated by John Umhoefer, the executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. "It's an industry that not only is important economically but it's also part of the state pscyhe," he said. "It needs every bit of the Legislature's help."

Umhoefer said he was impressed to see both the Assembly and Senate working together on the resolution. "Dairy brings us all together," he added.

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Rob Schultz has won multiple writing awards at the state and national levels and covers an array of topics for the Wisconsin State Journal in south-central and southwestern Wisconsin.

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