The General Court Of The European Union Dismisses The Action Against The Registration Of The Name 'Halloumi' As A Protected Designation Of Origin

On 21 February 2024, the General Court of the European Union delivered its much-anticipated judgement in Papouis Dairies and Others v. Commission (T-361/21).
European Union Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration
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On 21 February 2024, the General Court of the European Union delivered its much-anticipated judgement in Papouis Dairies and Others v. Commission (T-361/21). This case pertained to an action seeking the annulment of the European Commission's Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/591, which involved the registration of the name «Χαλλούμι» (Halloumi) /«Hellim» in the list of Protected Designations of Origin (PDO).

Background

As part of the European Union ('EU') quality policy, aimed at protecting the names of specific products to promote their unique characteristics, the EU geographical indications system ('GI') protects the names of products originating from specific regions and that have distinct qualities or enjoy a reputation linked to their production territory. This system establishes intellectual property rights, with product names registered as PDO having the strongest ties to the place in which they were made. The PDO recognition not only assures consumers of the product quality, but also plays an important role in trade negotiations between the EU and other countries.

In April 2021, upon the request of the Cypriot authorities, the European Commission ('EC') registered the name «Χαλλούμι» (Halloumi) /«Hellim» as PDO, adopting Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/591, which outlines the specifications for halloumi production. Τhe application for registration was based on the Cypriot production standard CYS 94 of 1985 ('the 1985 standard') which provides, inter alia, that halloumi may be produced from sheep's or goat's milk, or a mixture thereof, with or without cow's milk. The application requested that the standard be interpreted as requiring halloumi producers to use more than 50% sheep's or goat's milk.

On 22 June 2021, several Cypriot companies brought an action before the General Court of the EU, seeking to annul the EC's aforementioned Implementing Regulation, alleging that the EC erred in its examination of the application for the PDO registration.

Judgement

On 21 February 2024, the General Court dismissed the application in its entirety. The General Court found that the EC, when examining whether the registration of a name as a PDO meets the requirements of EU law, is not obliged to verify whether the method of obtaining the product described in the specification complies with a pre-existing national production standard, such as the 1985 standard in the present case.

In any event, the General Court held that the specification 'with or without cow's milk' in the wording of the 1985 standard, indicates that cow's milk is regarded by the competent authority which adopted that standard as a purely optional ingredient and as a potential complement to sheep's or goat's milk. Therefore, the decision to limit the proportion of cow's milk used in the mixture to 50% in the registration application seems consistent with the 1985 standard.

Next steps

In March 2024, the new European Regulation on Geographical Indications is expected to be published, allowing for a potential five-year extension of the transitional period for the implementation of the production specifications.

In a press release, the Ministry of Agriculture stated that it anticipates an intensification of the certification of the authenticity of halloumi as PDO, as defined by the EU specifications. Furthermore, the Ministry is proceeding with the establishment of an Interdisciplinary Committee, in which all stakeholders shall participate, as well as with the development of a software to quantify sheep's and goat's milk content in halloumi.

It should be noted that, the relevant Decree of the Minister of Energy, Commerce, and Industry (Κ.Δ.Π 35/2024) currently in force sets the minimum ratio of sheep's and goat's milk in the mixture of raw materials to produce halloumi at 25% until 9 July 2024.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

The General Court Of The European Union Dismisses The Action Against The Registration Of The Name 'Halloumi' As A Protected Designation Of Origin

European Union Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration

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