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Real food and safety

First I read an AP story that seems to give the impression that immigrants eat all kinds of crazy game and unsafe food:

Authorities say the discoveries are part of a larger trend in which markets across New York are buying meat and other foods from unregulated sources and selling them to an immigrant population accustomed to more exotic fare.

State regulators have responded by stepping up enforcement, confiscating 65 percent more food through September than they did in all of 2005.

Confiscating more food does not mean they are getting a higher percentage of the food, though. Nevermind the details, it makes for a good story on how immigrants threaten the food safety system with misleading labels and failing to comply with complex regulations.

In a city filled with clusters of people hailing from all over the world, these rules can get lost in translation.

The problem is particularly acute in the ethnic neighborhoods of New York City, where newly arrived and enterprising immigrants open up food shops, stocking their shelves with savory favorites relished in their native lands.

Those people just don’t understand the rules, right? Or maybe being a newcomer is not the problem…

I then read this other AP story that argues people in general seem clueless when it comes to authenticity of food and many have a history of stealing ideas and cheating their way to success:

Gary Litman, vice president for European affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said it’s too late to rename imitation Italian products that are already firmly established. “You cannot change history that easily,” he said.

The problem is particularly widespread in the case of Parmesan cheese, which has spawned countless imitations worldwide.

Authentic Parmesan, called Parmigiano Reggiano in Italy, is produced solely in and around the northern town of Parma. It uses unpasteurized milk with no additives and the cows are fed specific fodder.

“The presence of the Parmesan product — especially grated — is absolutely massive in the United States. And the production process has nothing to do with ours,” said Giorgio Bocedi, a lawyer for the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese consortium.

Makers of Parmigiano Reggiano sold 112,000 tons of cheese in 2005 — a fraction of the estimated 600,000 tons of imitations worldwide, the consortium says.

Litman said most American buyers probably don’t care whether the cheese was made in Parma. “No one thinks it’s coming from Parma. They don’t even know where Parma is. They couldn’t find it on a map.”

Dumb Americans, eh? Fortunately for them they can claim they have been wrong for so long they can now say they are right, not to mention that it appears most Americans don’t care what ends up in their mouth.

Next time I hear someone complain that the Chinese are “copying” American products, I might just pull out a bag of noodles or block of cheese and say, “right, no copying issues here, eh?” The latter AP article suggests some strange exceptions and rules to food labels are notable:

Bocedi said part of the problem is geographic trademarks are not protected in most countries outside Europe, including the United States, with the only exceptions being wine and spirits. So anyone can use the name Parmesan, which in the U.S. is considered generic.

I guess the point is that you can’t name your product after your town/region and expect it to be protected in America. Hmm, that might come as a surprise to some American companies. Santa Cruz Bicycles comes to mind. Can you imagine a Chinese bicycle maker claiming “we consider the name Santa Cruz generic”?

Litman noted U.S. law requires products to state exactly where they were produced, which the European Union does not.

But the EU has long granted protection within Europe to the names of dozens of what it terms “high quality” goods known by the region where they are produced, such as Parmesan cheese, Feta cheese and Bordeaux wine.

I’m still amazed that the real Czech Bud company was unable to get Budweiser to relinquish its name. It just seems wrong that they have to sell under “Budvar” when they clearly were ripped-off by immigrants who came to America and used their name.

Budweiser is the name of a pilsner-style beer from the city of České Budějovice in Bohemia (Czech Republic), brewed since 1265. Its name is derived from the German name for the town, Budweis (something from Budweis being a Budweiser).

Tell this to Litman and I’m sure he would say “They don’t even know where Budweis is. They couldn’t find it on a map.” So, without the influx of immigrants America might never have the pleasure of real food from overseas like Budweiser and Parmesan, let alone benefit from the more well-known cheap domestically produced immitations.

Oh well. Food security, let alone immigration, is such a complex and emotional problem for people, computer security sometimes seems simple by comparison.

EDITED TO ADD (5 Dec 2006): It turns out that the Czechs are now allowed use the name Budweiser in the Czech Republic. Budweiser U.S. actually sued in order to prevent them from using the Budweiser name in their own country but the EU determined that the Czechs had the right to use the name after all, at least in the EU. So pub signs in the Czech Republic now list the beer as Budweiser/Budvar. Of course in the US the Czech Budweiser still has to be called Czechvar. That means the real company had to fight to use their own name in their own country after hundreds of years because some enterprising Americans managed to make a great deal of money in a short time by copying the taste and brand. I guess the Czech Republic is lucky they were not sued by Budweiser for rights to the city. Can you imagine a beer company landing troops and staking a claim to foreign territory on the principle of trademark issues and licensing? To be fair, the US Budweiser company claimed that the Budweiser label was first “marketed” by their founders at the end of the 1800s for very specific reasons and thus they should have exclusive global rights. A little research uncovered a claim that they picked the name because it was “German-sounding and would appeal to other German immigrants”. No kidding? They actually blame immigrant consumers for their name? It is even more ironic then that the US Budweiser recipe violates the actual German Reinheitsgebot regulations on beer ingredients. I haven’t found anything yet, but could they blame immigrants for that as well?

Posted in Food, Security.

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