"At least as much feta and parmesan cheese are made outside Europe as within it," said Errico Auricchio, chairman of the consortium. "Production of provolone is more than 15 times greater outside Europe." Auricchio, whose family has been making Italian-style cheeses since 1877, is the president of BelGioioso Cheese Inc., Green Bay, Wis.

"This is not just a question of dollars and cents, but of fairness and choice," said Auricchio. "These generic names are in the public domain. The logical path is to label foods so consumers can choose what they want - whether it's a food from the valleys of France, Italy or Wisconsin. What matters is that they can choose."

The European Commission began attempting to expand the system of geographical indications under World Trade Organization negotiations in the Doha round. But as those efforts stalled, the Commission has started inserting naming restrictions within free trade agreements, as seen in current negotiations with several Western Hemisphere and Asian countries.

The consortium will work to inform consumer groups, farmer associations, manufacturers, and agricultural, trade and intellectual property officials of the damage that will be caused in their own countries if efforts to restrict the use of common food names go unchecked. It will also work with these groups to protect common food names in domestic regulations and international agreements. Importantly, it will work to develop a clear and reasonable scope of protection for GIs by working with leaders in agriculture, trade and intellectual property rights; and foster adoption of high-standard and model GI guidelines throughout the world.

"For over 60 years in Costa Rica and Central America, our producers and processors have, in good faith, used generic names to describe various types of cheese such as edam, cheddar, gouda, emmenthal and parmesan, among others," said Jorge Manuel E. Gonzalez, president of the National Chamber of Milk Producers of Costa Rica. "On behalf of producers and industry partners, the Chamber has struggled to continue using these names in the present and the future, so we are very proud to belong to the consortium and to continue this struggle in partnership with many producers and industries in the world."

"The European Commission is quietly making inroads in this area, so the new consortium intends to shine a spotlight on this activity, and we encourage others to join the effort at this critical time," said Auricchio.