Greece is Fighting the World About How to Label…Yogurt

In an increasingly uncultured international dispute, the nation’s dairy pride is a victim of its own successful marketing

By Amanda Arnold

Published on July 21, 2016

In a country currently suffering from both debt and refugee crises, Greece may be in a weakened state, but not so weak that it won't fight about an issue regarding another equally complex (but slightly more innocuous) culture: yogurt. In April 2015, the Czech Republic drafted a bill regarding its dairy product requirements for the European Commission, which included the problematic phrase "Greek-style yoghurt." According to an article published in EurActiv, upon recently discovering the use of said phrase, Greece not-so-kindly responded with one central message: We're not cool with that.

"Greek yoghurt is manufactured in Greece according to the relevant long-standing production methods and does not concern a single type of product," Greek Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Evangelos Apostolou is quoted as writing in a letter to Commissioner for Health and Food Safety and the EU Agriculture Commissioner. He grounded his statement in the argument that this labeling mishap is not in accordance with a 2011 European Union food transparency regulation.

Dairy brings up a surprising number of labeling issues, and over the past few years, "Greek" yogurt has easily been one of the most contested. In April 2013, a Chicago resident sued General Mills for producing Greek yogurt that wasn't in fact "Greek"; in June 2014, Chobani was hit with a similar suit. Though Greek yogurt isn't protected with a designation of origin (PDO), the regulation that doesn't allow makers to label their product as something produced in a specific region unless it's actually produced there (ie. only sparkling wine produced in Champagne can be labelled as Champagne), Greeks and some Greek yogurt purists aren't about to let any other country claim the islands' yogurt and their own.

Except for one problem: There's no legal definition of "Greek yogurt." While in America, Greek yogurt has come to mean yogurt that has been strained to remove watery whey, resulting in a protein-packed, super-thick style, it's legally just…yogurt. It's a similar story in the EU, as a spokesperson is quoted in the article saying that "the product name 'Greek yogurt' was not protected by a geographical indication."

More so, Greece isn’t the only country that strains its yogurt to a thick consistency: Turkey, Iceland, and other countries throughout Europe and Asia strain theirs as well. One could say that all yogurt made in Greece is Greek yogurt, but the Greeks have ultimately become a victim of successful marketing: if you can’t rigorously define what Greek yogurt is, there’s no reason everyone can’t claim it.

If Greece loses this battle, it'll just have more time to focus on its other dairy-centric fight: getting Feta cheese protected under the CETA Trade Agreement.

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