A victory for American dairy groups, an affront for Swiss and French cheesemakers. As the BBC reports, the US Court of Appeal confirmed on Friday: the term Gruyère does indeed refer in the United States to a common name and cannot be reserved only for cheeses of this type originating in France or Switzerland.
The Interprofession du Gruyère, which represents the players in the sector in Switzerland, and the Syndicat interprofessionnel du Gruyère, its French counterpart, had tried to register the term in the American register of certified brands.
But faced with the refusal of the organization, they had filed a complaint and had lost at first instance in early 2022.
Appeals court judges upheld the decision. There is not in the United States the same protections as in Europe on the name of food products, such as the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for Gruyère in France, they argue in their verdict.
The food safety agency, the FDA, defines many criteria for Gruyere cheese, such as the existence of "little holes" or the fact that it is aged for at least 90 days. But does not include criteria on geographical origin.
Also "cheese, no matter where it was produced, has been labeled and sold as Gruyere in the United States for decades." And this whether it was produced in the US state of Wisconsin or imported from the Netherlands, Germany or Austria, they add.
In conclusion, they write, the plaintiffs cannot go against "what is clear from the record: cheese consumers in the United States understand that the term 'gruyere' refers to a type of cheese, that which makes the term generic".
This decision has been welcomed by several players in the dairy sector in the United States, including the Federation of American Dairy Farmers, who hope that it will encourage French and Swiss professional federations to "stop trying to expropriate a common name from food” by registering a mark. The Swiss and French federations, on the other hand, are "disappointed", according to their lawyer.
"We believe that the actual situation in the US market is different from what the Court of Appeal described, and we will vigorously pursue our efforts to protect the Gruyère AOP quality product certification mark in the United States," said indicated Richard Lehv in a message sent to Agence France-Presse.