Tension is mounting between the EU and the US over the use of protected food names such as feta and prosciutto, after a new US industry group challenged the European concept of geographical indications.

The Consortium for Common Food Names, whose members include the US dairy Export Council and the American cheese Society, has accused the EU of being “arbitrary” and restrictive, and said it undermined international free trade.

The group wants the EU to stop trying to protect what it claims are generic food names such as feta to allow producers from around the world to be able to produce and market them. If the EU wants to protect foods, this should be limited to food names with precise geographical indications, it says - that way, Greek Feta could be protected but not just feta.

“No one country or entity should own common food names,” said CCFN chairman Errico Auricco. “If such efforts are successful, producers around the world will be forced to consider relabelling potentially billions of dollars’ worth of food products.”

However, a European Commission spokesman said the current system already made allowances for generic names and it was important consumers were not misled. “While everyone should have the right to use common names, everyone should also have the right to expect truthful labelling and product information. The Consortium appears to advocate ‘free riding’ on the reputation of European culinary heritage foods.”