BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union will not water down its strict geographic food names under a far-reaching trade deal with the United States despite a suggestion by Germany's farm minister that not every style of sausage could be protected, the EU executive said on Tuesday.
Wines, meats, cheeses and other delicacies produced in Europe have a special status that protects their name and origin from imitation, ranging from parmesan cheese to champagne.
German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt sparked a storm in Germany after telling a magazine that under the proposed trade pact with the United States, "we cannot protect every sausage and every cheese specialty."
The United States says the EU system is unfair because European immigrants have long produced such products as Greek-style cheese "feta" and should be allowed to export it as such.
"We have made clear to our American counterparts that the protection of geographical indications is one of our main priorities," EU trade spokesman Daniel Rosario said.
"We have not agreed and will not agree to reduce the protection of our geographical indications in Europe," he told a European Commission news conference.
Tensions over the emotive subject of food risk eroding already fragile public support for a deal that proponents say would increase economic growth by around $100 billion a year on both sides of the Atlantic.
Both sides want to agree a accord by the end of this year.
Some EU farmers say changes to the European system would see Europe importing Nuremberg pork sausages from Kentucky or allowing U.S. food companies to export parmesan cheese even when the milk has not been produced in Italy.
But the United States argues that terms such as feta, prosciutto and bratwurst are generic, highlighted by the fact that Denmark can sell Greek-style feta in Europe.
More broadly, U.S. farmers complain that the farm trading relationship is unfairly skewed in Europe's favor and want it addressed in the trade talks.
Following the reaction to his comments, Schmidt issued a statement promising to protect and promote traditional and regional foods.
Reporting by Robin Emmott, editing by David Evans