US cheesemakers win legal battle over usage of “gruyere”

The US dairy industry has won a recent legal battle over the word “gruyere”, after lawyers from Interprofession du Gruyère (IDG), a Switzerland-registered association, began sending cease-and-desist letters to US companies and dairy organisations that were using the term.

Cheesemakers from the US and other countries have been making and selling gruyere for years, however according to the US Dairy Export Council (USDEC), the letters from IDG made more than a dozen US organisations, including several leading retailers, stop using the name gruyere, wanting to avoid litigation. Some of the IDG letters suggested using alternative names for US-made gruyere, including “alpine cheese,” “mountain cheese,” or “mountain-style cheese.” However, several US dairies worked with the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) to persevere and push back against this, stating that the issue was about more than just lexicon. According to a study commissioned by the CCFN, if Europe secures exclusive use of feta, parmesan, gorgonzola, asiago and other common cheese names, it could reduce consumption of US cheese 21% over 10 years and cost US dairy farmers a cumulative $59 billion.

“Gruyere is the perfect example of the European Commission’s hypocrisy when it comes to GIs,” said Jaime Castaneda, CCFN executive director. “The only town named Gruyere in all of Europe is located in Switzerland. Despite this, the French have been producing gruyere for generations.”

The European Commission maintains that because the French had been producing this product for a long time, they should retain the right to keep making it and requests that Switzerland allows the coexistence of both products.

However, Castaneda stated that there was a clear double standard, as the EU reportedly also works to prohibit US and other producers from using the common terms parmesan and feta despite long-standing production of those cheeses outside of the regions where they originated.

The CCFN organised several of its members, as well as other supporters, to make its case to the US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, and a 65-page ruling issued 5 August found the coalition’s arguments persuasive.

“After carefully considering all of the arguments and evidence of record, we find that purchasers and consumers of cheese understand the term ‘gruyere’ as a designation that primarily refers to a category within the genus of cheese that can come from anywhere,” the ruling said.

It also said: “The record demonstrates that cheese identified as ‘gruyere’ is made in many locations including Germany, Austria and the United States. Those knowledgeable of the World Championship Cheese Contest will know that non-Swiss and non-French producers of cheese (along with Swiss or French producers) are listed as winners in “gruyere” categories for each year for which there is evidence.”

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