Switzerland’s biggest cheese export, Emmental, is set to be awarded the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) label.
Makers of the famous cheese, renowned for its large holes, are hoping that the label will help boost flagging sales.
On Monday the Federal Agriculture Office announced plans to introduce the label for Emmental cheese. It rejected 64 appeals against the proposal.
“Certification will help protect the origin, quality and tradition of Switzerland’s Emmental cheese,” said the office's director, Manfred Bötsch.
Opponents of the PDO label have 30 days to appeal against the decision.
German dairy industry officials - supported by their counterparts in France, Denmark and Austria - criticised the move and called on the European Commission to intervene.
The German Dairy Association said that a number of international agreements dating back to 1951 gave all cheese producers the right to use the Emmental name. Emmental cheese has been produced in Germany since 1820.
On Tuesday the European Commission cast doubt on Switzerland's right to claim the cheese as its own, saying Emmental had become a "generic expression".
Most of the 270 cheese producers who will benefit from the label are based in the Emmental region near the Swiss capital, Bern.
To be awarded the label, they will have to use untreated milk which is no more than 24 hours old. In addition, the finished cheese will have to mature for at least four months before it can be sold.
Guido Nydegger, of the Association of Emmental Cheese Producers, welcomed the decision to introduce the label.
“This will ensure good quality and restrict the number of producers,” he told swissinfo.
Those against the proposal argue that Emmental is a generic name for a certain type of cheese and as such cannot be officially registered.
Some producers are also unhappy about the chosen geographical zone, arguing that they have successfully made Emmental cheese outside the region.
But agricultural officials say that three separate surveys have shown that the Swiss closely associate the cheese with a specific part of the country.
Bötsch said the label was a first step towards international protection for Emmental cheese.
Switzerland and the European Union are negotiating mutual recognition of PDO labels. Currently, only labels awarded to wines and spirits are recognised by both parties.
“There is a trend in European countries to try and protect product names and local expertise,” said Frédéric Brand, who oversees designations of origin at the Federal Agriculture Office.
Brand added that the certification would probably be used as a marketing tool.
“I can see producers using it, especially for the key Italian and German markets,” he said.
The label could also be a way of boosting flagging sales figures for Emmental cheese.
Over the past two decades, exports have dropped by nearly a third and nearly half of all producers of the cheese have gone out of business.
swissinfo with agencies
Around 85% of the 32,000 tons of Emmental cheese produced in Switzerland in 2003 were exported.
Emmental accounts for more than half of all Swiss cheese exports.
Italy is the biggest importer of Emmental (11,000 tons in 2003).
The United States imported nearly 3,200 tons of Emmental, known as “Swiss Cheese”.
Seven Swiss cheeses already benefit from the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) label.
They include Gruyère, Sbrinz, Tête de Moine, L’Etivaz, Vacherin Mont-D’Or, Formaggio d’Alpe Ticinese and Berner Alpkäse.
It has taken four years to process the Emmental PDO label.
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