Fears for the future of pure Greek feta
Andy Cornish: March 2017
The future of exclusive Greek feta cheese could be under threat in the wake of a new international trade deal.
A recent EU trade deal with Canada includes clauses that remove PDO protection for feta, prompting outrage among Greek farmers.
The loss has triggered fears among Greek dairy producers about the fate of Greek strained yoghurt brands which enjoy similar protection.
Greek farmers are also concerned that similar deal might be struck with Britain in the wake of Brexit and that feta cheese sold in UK supermarkets could as easily by made in Aldershot as Attica.
Feta has enjoyed protected status since 2002 when the EU named it Protected Designations of Origin (PDO) product.
Since then cheese sold as 'feta' must have been manufactured in designated areas of Greece and can contain at least 70% sheep's milk.
Brussels says more EU money will be used to promote feta internationally with €19 billion earmarked to support the Greek farm and stockbreeding sector over the next seven years.
But the Greek dairy products federation SEVGAP has dismissed the pledge as 'empty promises', describing the new trade deal as 'scandalous' and an act of 'national betrayal'.
When Greece joined the EEC in 1981, there was no PDO protection for feta cheese, and it was only after years of legal challenges that the Greek cheese won special status within the EU.
It wasn't until 2002 that the Commission registered the name 'feta' which can only be used exclusively for cheese originating in Greece.
To be registered as a PDO, a traditional name must refer to an agricultural product or a foodstuff from a defined geographical environment for a product or foodstuff with specific characteristics.
The area defined by the Greek legislation covers mainland Greece and the island of Lesbos where the method of keeping the ewes and goats have a long-standing tradition.
The small native breeds of sheep and goats, whose milk is used in feta production, are tough and resilient and fed on an extremely diversified flora, which helps give feta its distinctive aroma and flavour.
But the granting of PDO status was not without controversy as producers in Denmark, Germany, and France were also making and marketing their own cheese as 'feta'. The EU carried out an investigation into the origins of feta and eventually awarded PDO status to Greece.
But problems for feta have not gone away. Bulgaria has its own cultural claims to feta and Bulgarians argue that feta originated in their country, not Greece.
The latest trade deal with Canada undermines the unique Greek status for feta cheese, and the row looks likely to continue for some time.