Greek milk processors should have the exclusive right to the use of the name 'feta' for cheese, according to the advocate general who advises the EU's Court of Justice.

"In the view of the advocate general, 'feta' meets the requirements of a designation of origin in that it describes a cheese originating from a substantial part of Greece, whose characteristics derive from its geographical environment and its production, processing and preparation are carried out in a defined area," the court said in an announcement of the advocate general's decision.

Germany and Denmark are seeking the annulment of an EU regulation which put 'feta' in the list of protected denominations of origin. Groups which have challenged the rule include Alpenhain-Camembert-Werk, by the Confédération générale de producteurs de lait de brebis et des industriels de Roquefort and Arla Foods.

Advocate general Ruiz-Jarabo considered that the term 'feta' has not become generalised in the EU as it was, the court said, inextricably associated with a specific foodstuff: the cheese produced in a large area of Greece, using sheep's milk or a mixture of sheep's milk and goat's milk, by the natural and artisanal process of coagulation at normal pressure.

'Feta' is linked with a large part of Greece both historically and at the present time, the court said. The size of the area from which it originates is irrelevant, the decisive factor being that it meets certain conditions which individualise the product. The quality and the characteristics of  'feta' cheese derive from the geographical surroundings where it is made.

"The advocate general therefore considers that the name 'feta' is not generic, but meets the requirements to be regarded as a traditional name, which can be assimilated to a designation of origin, deserving of protection throughout Community territory," the court said. "Consequently, advocate general Ruiz-Jarabo proposes that the Court of Justice dismiss the actions brought by Germany and Denmark."

According to the Bloomberg news agency, Arla Foods makes 30,000 tonnes of the cheese a year worth about €125m (US$161m). "It would have a major impact on sales," said Arla spokesman Louis Honore.

Feta was first protected as a designation of origin in 1996, although feta is also made in Denmark, Germany and France. That registration was annulled by the Court of Justice in 1999, but the commission re-registered the name in 1992.