Dairy giant Lactalis has denied claims it broke EU protected designation of origin (PDO) regulations by producing cheese labelled as ‘feta’ in France.

Local media reports in Greece claim a product was listed on the French multinational’s website labelled as “French soft sheep’s milk cheese ripened in brine”, called Valbreso feta.

But a spokesperson for the company told Just Food the product in the photo had “old packaging” and the label has since been updated. It said the image on its website has now been replaced.

The Greek Ministry of Rural Development and Food confirmed to Just Food it had received a complaint about “a white cheese product that, while produced in France, is labelled as feta and traded in third countries”. It said there had been “huge discussion and publicity” surrounding the case in Greece, and the ministry plans to raise the issue with French authorities.

Director Eleni Tzavara said: “We assess and initially conclude that such a practice violates EU legislation and consequently, has a negative effect and creates a damaging impact on feta producers, infringing their intellectual property rights thus causing unfair competition.

“Our aim is to protect the Greek producers and we are determined to stop this infringement.”

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Lactalis said it produces feta at its plant in Volos, mainland Greece, which is “in compliance with the AOP specifications”.

The spokesperson added: “We have never sold feta in the European Union that did not meet the specifications.

“Since the beginning of 2021, we have not produced or marketed brine-ripened sheep’s milk cheese under the Valbreso Feta brand in the European Union.”

Feta was granted PDO status in 2002, meaning anything labelled ‘feta’ must be produced in Greece and contain a certain percentage of sheep’s milk.

In its application for the feta PDO, Greek authorities defined it as: “A white table cheese which is stored in brine and produced, using traditional methods, exclusively from sheep’s milk, or from a mixture of sheep’s milk and goat’s milk with the latter not exceeding 30% of the milk net weight.”

It can be produced in Macedonia, Thrace, Thessaly, central mainland Greece, the Péloponnèse and Lesbos.

The European Commission states: “A true product of its environment, [feta’s] recipe and production method reflect the unique terrain of Greece and are grounded in the cumulative know-how of more than two millennia.”

Tzavara said: “The Greek Authorities will act institutionally, based on the current EU legislation on Geographical Indications, and will assertively proceed informing all necessary parties and stakeholders as well as the competent French authorities in order to receive the appropriate administrative or judicial measures. Our aim is to protect the Greek producers and we are determined to stop this infringement.”