Commission tells Czechs Greek yoghurt is ‘Greek’

October 5, 2016

The use of the term “Greek yoghurt” for products made outside Greece deceives consumers and creates unfair competition, the European Commission said, ending a spat between Athens and Prague over the delicacy.

Greek Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Evangelos Apostolou recently sent a letter to Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, as well as EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan, expressing his disagreement with a Czech Republic’s draft decree laying down requirements for milk and dairy products, ice creams and edible fats and oils to the Commission.

For Athens, both the name “Greek” yoghurt and “Greek-style” yoghurt is contrary to the EU Regulation on the provision of food information to consumers, which provides that consumers should not be misled.

Unfair competition

A European Commission spokesperson told EurActiv in July that the product name “Greek yoghurt” was not protected by a geographical indication. But it was a fundamental requirement of the Union rules on food information that “food labelling must not mislead consumers as to the characteristics of the food including its identity and origin,” the spokesperson said.

Andriukaitis’s reply seems to confirm this argument.

Referring to the same Regulation, the Commissioner stressed that food information should not be misleading, as to the characteristics of the food and, in particular, as to its identity and country of origin or place of provenance.

“In particular, using the term ‘Greek yoghurt’ for products produced outside Greece would deceive consumers and would create unfair competition in the EU market,” the EU official noted.

Andriukaitis went further, saying that designating yoghurt not originated from Greece as “Greek yoghurt” and revealing the true place of manufacture on the label (e.g. produced in X country other than Greece) was not sufficient to avoid or compensate the misleading character of the designation “Greek yoghurt” as to its identity and country of origin.

Greek-type yoghurt

The executive, however, adds nuance when it comes to “Greek-type yoghurts”.

Regarding other designations such as “Greek-type yoghurt”, “Greek-style yoghurt” or “Greek-recipe yoghurt”, the Commissioner said that they could be acceptable to indicate that the products have a “thick and creamy texture due to particular production methods”.

However, he emphasised that their potential to mislead consumers should be assessed on a “case by case” basis taking into account the characteristics of the products as well as the presentation (e.g. images) and other additional information provided on the labels.

Greek Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Evangelos Apostolou recently told it was no coincidence that many counterfeit manufacturers “use images to link their product with Greece”.

Satisfaction in Athens

The Greek minister expressed his satisfaction with the Commission’s reply, and repeated his stance that Prague’s dealing with the issue was “unacceptable”.

“Our arguments were accepted from both Commissioners,” he said. “From now on we will be insisting in order to protect Greek yoghurt and we are determined to address the relevant courts if needed”.

(By Sarantis Michalopoulos)