Greece is determined to protect its signature brands of products, Minister of Agricultural Development and Food, Stavros Arachovitis told Xinhua in a recent interview after the country's latest victory over the Czech Republic on the spat of "Greek yogurt" labeling.
Although Greek yogurt is not protected with EU designation of product like feta, the flagship of Greece's geographical indications, the Greek government is taking steps to offer brand name protection against imitations that mislead the consumers.
"The designation of Greek yogurt got a late start," the Greek minister admitted. "Our country is in the process to establish a protected geographical indication (PGI) in Europe. It will also be protected in international agreements EU signs with third countries," Arachovitis explained.
But the procedure will take longer, he emphasized. The main difficulty stands on its high reputation inside and outside Europe.
Over the past few years, the Greek-style yogurt category experienced tremendous growth in Europe and the United States. The Greek-type accounts for about half of all yogurt sold in the US with Danone, Chobani and General Mills having the lion's share of the market with 70 percent, according to Euromonitor International, a London-based market research company.
To establish a PGI certification for Greek yogurt, the Agriculture Ministry has assigned to the competent controlling authority, ELGO-DIMITRA at the Athens University of Agriculture, to compile the relevant dossier which will define what Greek yogurt is.
"What Greek yogurt is, its production process, the milk to be used, its form, even its moisture content will all be described in the technical documentation that is compiled by the designated body," he said.
In February, a long debate between Athens and Prague ended which dated back in 2016. According to the Greek minister, the use of the term "Greek yogurt" for products made outside Greece deceives consumers and contravenes EU legislation.
Facing EU probe, Prague complied with the rules and sent to EU a draft amendment to its national laws that will prevent Czech dairies to use the term "Greek yogurt".
Under the EU's protected name schemes, registered products receive only Europe-wide legal protection against misuse, not internationally.
Every time Europe negotiates with a third country for a bilateral trade deal, the protection framework to prevent rip-offs and imitations of PDO products, EU's quality certification marking products, is examined by case.
In the past, not all deals have been good for Greece. In the EU agreement with Canada (CETA) and African countries (SADC), feta PDO was excluded, permitting white cheese products made from cow's milk be named feta.
According to the certification status, feta PDO is produced only in certain parts of Greece. The white salted cheese, made from sheep's milk or a sheep-and-goat milk blend, matures in brine and its flavor ranges from mild to sharp.
"Feta PDO is the flagship of our cheese variety, like the Parmesan cheese in Italy. It should have been designated for all the continents. It is difficult for us who export to America and Canada," Markos Leggas, a Greek third-generation cheese maker, told Xinhua.
Feta, considered by many as a Greek national symbol, accounts for more than 70 percent of Greek cheese export. It ranks fifth in the list of the 200 European protected cheese regarding the volume production.
Greece's profits reach 330 million euros while 300,000 people work in the product line, and another 50,000 farmers produce animal feed, according to the data released by the ministry during the Zootechnia International Fair held in Thessaloniki this February.
Greek cheesemakers require more protection through supervisory controls to safeguard their product. "The only encouraging this period and the last years of the crisis is feta PDO and our export activity. We have turned to exports as the Greek market is out," Leggas said.
Acknowledging the value of PDO status of domestic products, Leggas noted that Greece needs to act more to develop feta PDO abroad.
For his part, Arachovitis said that the Greek government will protect the reputation of Greek products in order to protect Greek farmers.
After Greek yogurt, Greece is taking steps to have the famous "Gyros" to be recognized with the European Union as "Traditional Specialty Guaranteed" (TSG).
"Another category of the EU's protected name schemes which we develop this period are the TSG products that are based on a traditional production method, on the recipe," the Greek minister explained.
So far, a total of 107 Greek products are registered in EU as certified food products, 76 with PDO and 31 PGI statuses, as six more are waiting for approval, according to the EU website for Agriculture and Rural Development.