Jim Oberstar Fights for Affordable Roquefort

By Matthew Yglesias

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I’ve written previously about the Bush administration’s steep retaliatory import duty on Roquefort cheese. This is of particular interest to me, because not only does it illustrate important policy points, but Roquefort happens to be my favorite cheese. I had thought, however, that nobody was going to take up the cause of America’s suffering cheese-loving elites. But now it seems Rep. Jim Oberstar has stepped up to the plate with a letter to the President. It reads, in part:

“Freedom fries and “freedom toast” did serious damage to U.S.-French relaions. We both want to reestablish America’s moral authority in the world under your presidency; a very noble gesture toward that goal would be to remove or reduce this mean-spirited and unproductive punitive duty on Roquefort cheese.

Though I am a supporter of “buy American”, it is for unfairly subsidized foreign products when they are identical or comparable to ours. Roquefort cheese is not in this category. I know from my own experience that if such retaliatory action were taken on products produced ins mall communities in my district, as oquefort cheese is in a small French town, it would have a serious adverse local economic impact.

I’m with Oberstar. But this reminds me that I’ve been meaning to write about Protected Designation of Origin rules more broadly. For example, I only recently learned that though “extra virgin olive oil” has a precise meaning in Europe, in the U.S. you can just slap that label on pretty much anything you like. This free market gesture, it seems to me, tends to actually eliminate incentives to produce high-quality olive oil since it’s difficult to credibly signal that your product is better.

3 responses to “Jim Oberstar Fights for Affordable Roquefort

  1. A lack of stringent labeling rules is the least of the problems of high-quality olive oil producers; check out this great article from the New Yorker two years ago on adulterated olive oil: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/08/13/070813fa_fact_mueller

  2. Although aesthetically I really want to agree that strict rules on language use and food is a good idea, they can just as easily be used to shut out legitimately tasty innovation. I’ve seen arguements that AOC in wine prevented mid-level French wine from competing with their more free-wheeling US conterparts. Language changes, sometimes due to bastardization, sometimes not and its hard to draw a strict line.

  3. Christopher M

    I would draw a line between labels based on manufacturing technique (though even those can be pretty bad if the regulators are captured by industry) and labels based on place of origin. There’s no good reason that only certain regions of the world should be allowed to produce something called “prosciutto,” or whatever.

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