The EU ruling to protect Greek farmers' right to call their sheep's milk cheese "feta" has come under attack from France and Denmark. Ironically, as more and more European producers seek the exclusivity won by such protection, French farmers are fighting regulations they more often champion.

After 13 years of legal wrangling, Greek farmers finally secured exclusive rights to call their sheep's milk cheese feta last October. However, the move faced strong opposition, chiefly from French, Danish and German sheep farmers who also produce feta-type cheeses that are distributed under the feta name.

The traditional Greek cheese is now protected by legislation ensuring that certain distinctive regional products are indeed made exclusively in that locality. Over 150 cheeses throughout Europe are already protected in this way, amongst them gorgonzola, brie de Meaux and stilton.

But in this case, the French and Danes have decided that they will not back down without a fight, and have tabled a motion to cancel the European Commission's decision. The French decided to lend their weight to the Danish request after farmers staged several protests, including a large rally in the Southwestern town of Millau, which claims to be "the capital of feta".

José Bové, the French rural warrior and head of the Peasant's Confederation, headed one such protest last month, thereby ensuring widespread media coverage. For their part, the Danes say that they have made feta for decades.

Neither of these arguments carries much weight in Greece though, where feta has been made from sheep's milk or a blend of sheep and cow's milk since antiquity. In other parts of Europe, feta is often made using only cow's milk, and has white colorant added to it to prevent yellowing.

Producers outside Greece now have five years to change the names of their feta-style cheeses, assuming the decision is upheld. In fact, food makers throughout Europe, including many in France, benefit from such protection and are often among its most enthusiastic supporters. Bové's protestations aside, France's farmers must accept that regional food makers across the EU are increasingly following a path they helped forge.

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