• Matthew Smylie

Geographic Indications and the Feta PDO

This article builds upon my previous post which introduced the theory behind Geographic Indications. It does so by setting out a new Polanyian approach to GIs and applying this new framework to the case of Feta cheese PDO.

Photo Credit: https://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/paris-gourtsoyannis-feta-cheese-could-plunge-uk-no-deal-brexit-259521

This post builds on my previous post on Geographic Indications (GIs). It aims, through a re-reading of Polanyi’s The Great Transformation (TGT), to uncover a more nuanced theoretical approach to the political economy of GIs and agriculture. It moves away from an understanding of the double movement as a process whereby the market is either embedded or disembedded. Instead, Polanyi’s explanation of the tension between habitation and improvement is developed, viewing the processes of commodification and de-commodification as simultaneous and always present. This chapter develops a theory which moves past the state-market dichotomy, instead focusing on how GIs allow, on the one hand, rural communities to engage with neoliberal capitalism in order to make a livelihood, while, on the other hand, allowing these communities to place limits on the reach of capitalism in order to protect their culture, traditions, and environment. This new theoretical framework is then applied to the case of Feta cheese, investigating how Feta’s PDO status has sought to balance the need for habitation and improvement in Greece.

Re-reading Polanyi

While not explicitly aimed at the existing work on GIs, much of the secondary literature which employs the Polanyian concepts of embeddedness and the double movement to analyse issues in the global political economy has been critiqued by numerous academics (Holmes, 2018; Lacher, 1999; Peck, 2013). A key point of tension is the idea that the market can be ‘disembedded’ from society. Indeed, markets cannot be genuinely disembedded from society; markets are ‘sustained by morality, faith, power and emotion’ and remain ‘as social a realm of human existence as another’ (Holmes, 2018: 23-24). As such, Block (2003) has developed the concept of the ‘always embedded economy’; the market is always subject to the control of states and forms of social regulation. It is, therefore, analytically false to view the history of capitalism as ‘a mechanical oscillation from a less to more embedded economy’ (Cangiani, 2011: 192), in which the market becomes disembedded, and then society reacts to re-embed it. As such, future work should not treat the double movement as a pendular movement (Carton, 2014: 1005), which bases its analysis on a ‘dualist and normative schism between market and society’ (Carton, 2014: 1008). Instead, a more nuanced understanding of Polanyi’s ideas is required to understand the global political economy and the evolution of capitalism.

How then should Polanyi’s work be read? An emerging body of Polanyian scholarship draws upon an often-overlooked chapter of TGT, in which Polanyi introduces the tension between ‘habitation’ and ‘improvement’ (Aulenbacher et al, 2019; Holmes, 2018; Watson, 2009). These approaches move away from an analysis based on the dichotomy between society and the market. Rather, focus is directed towards the impact of economic development and the ability of people to deal with the changes that this produces for their livelihoods (Holmes, 2018: 28). On the one hand, there exists a push for improvement; this includes not only the spread of the market logic (Watson, 2009: 183) but also the modernisation of the tools of production (Polanyi, 2001: 35). Conversely, there is a need for habitation; people seek to limit the disruptive effects that modernisation and the market logic have on their daily lives (Holmes, 2018: 26). Polanyi saw great value in both habitation and improvement; the key, however, was to find a way to balance the two so that material progress could be achieved without destroying peoples security of livelihood and throwing society into turmoil (Holmes, 2018: 146). The rate of change, therefore, becomes a key variable; societies must be exposed to modernisation at a rate which does not destroy their sustenance (Polanyi, 2001: 39).

In achieving the balance between habitation and improvement, and managing the rate of change, states have a pivotal role to play (Polanyi, 2001: 39). Governments must find a way of allowing enough modernisation to allow businesses to expand and wealth to increase without weakening the domestic economy and destroying the social fabric (Block, 2008: 4). Thus, states have a dual role; ‘creating, maintaining and expanding markets on the one hand, while regulating, limiting and eliminating them on the other’ (Goodwin, 2018: 17). It is at this point that we can start to think about the double movement as a dialectical mode of analysis (Peck, 2013: 1540), whereby the forces of commodification and de-commodification are always and everywhere present. Under such an understanding, there is a constant tension between the interconnected forces of commodification and de-commodification, embeddedness and disembeddedness, which is never transcended (Goodwin, 2018: 19). Thus, capitalism evolves through the simultaneous interaction of commodification and de-commodification, rather than through a process which is ‘discrete and sequential’ (Ibid).

Under this re-reading of Polanyi, protective movements by society against the expansion of the market logic and modernisation are not viewed as a rejection of capitalism. Indeed, people depend upon the market system to sustain themselves and enjoy a decent standard of living (Carton, 2014: 1008). Instead, protective policies seek to allow society to engage in the market in order to provide for their needs, while simultaneously limiting the effects of modernisation and the spread of the market logic to prevent social dislocation. It is this theoretical framework which this paper argues best applies to the political economy of GIs. The following section will apply this re-reading of Polanyi to the case of GIs.

Application to Geographic Indications

The re-reading of Polanyi’s TGT outlined above provides a much different picture to the literature which has viewed GIs as a countermovement by society which seeks to resist neoliberal capitalism and the global agri-food industry with the goal of re-embedding production within local social and environmental contexts. Instead, GIs can be viewed as a policy which seeks to balance the push for improvement and the need for habitation. Here, the push for improvement within the agri-food sector is clear; agriculture is becoming increasingly industrialised, with the development of digitalised production processes, genetically modified crops and improvements in transportation (Rodriguez, 2018). Simultaneously, agricultural markets have been liberalised, particularly within the EU, with the creation of the single market, but also through trade deals including the EU-Canada free trade agreement (Webb, 2019: 3). Yet, rapid technological development and market liberalisation pose a threat to the livelihoods of rural communities who rely on traditional products. Thus, GIs serve to limit the impact of industrialisation and the expansion of global trade (Holmes, 2018: 28), while allowing people to ‘translate their long-standing, collective and patrimonial knowledge into livelihood and income’ (Blakeney, 2017: 170) through interaction with global markets.

These tensions between habitation and improvement occur not only at the domestic level but also the international level. Here, there appear to be two distinct groups on either side of the GI debate. On the one hand, there are the Northern European nations and North America; these countries are focused upon improvement, seeking to maximise ‘market performance and industrial efficiency’ (Parrott et al, 2002: 246). For these nations, the continued production of traditional goods is ‘a disruptive influence on the modernisation process’ (Bertozzi, 1995: 144). Conversely, the countries of Southern Europe have a greater need for habitation; in these societies there exists a ‘wealth of local and regional food specialities’ and agriculture ‘remains characterized by large numbers of small family farms’ (Parrott et al, 2002: 246). This is not, however, to generalise the needs of all the producers in these countries. Several groups in the US have argued for greater protection of local products (Josling, 2006: 301). However, these groups remain in the minority and are silenced by the large US companies which stand to lose from policies which protect traditional products (Hayes et al, 2005: 33). As a result of these differences between nations, it becomes the task of international political bodies such as the EU and WTO to utilise GI policy in order to strike a balance between habitation and improvement, for instance allowing Southern European nations to engage in world trade while simultaneously protecting their cultural heritage.

Further, reading commodification and de-commodification as interconnected and simultaneous processes provides an interesting insight into how GIs impact upon the environment. The existing literature outlined in chapter one suggested that GIs ‘re-embed’ production within local social systems, re-linking producers to nature (Barham, 2002: 351) and fostering more sustainable approaches to agriculture (Bérard & Marchenay, 2006: 114). Indeed, GI systems do seek to limit the mass industrialisation of land by promoting traditional production processes and the importance of terroir, but they do not eliminate the commodification of land. To maintain viable businesses, rural communities require improvements to their production processes, including the use of machinery and the building of factories, in order to cover costs and make profits (Carr, 2019). Similarly, the monopoly control that GIs confer on their holders produces higher prices for their goods, potentially leading to the intensification and expansion of production, creating issues such as soil degradation and water pollution (Parasecoli & Tasaki, 2011: 117).

Simultaneously, GIs also actively contribute to the roll-out of neoliberal capitalism (Guthman, 2007: 465). This is because GIs place a market price on environmental conservation; producers are incentivised to look after the local environment since ‘negative publicity would damage the products image in the mind of the consumer’ (Blakeney, 2017: 167) and the loss of terroir would mean that rural communities would lose their GI protection and the monopoly rent that comes with it (Blakeney, 2017: 173). Thus, viewing the double movement in dialectical terms, we see that GIs contribute to both the de-commodification and commodification of nature.

Similar processes are also observed with GIs impact upon culture and traditional knowledge. GIs undoubtedly seek to limit the commodification of both culture and knowledge by specifying that production is tied to a specific area and uses traditional methods. This prevents the culture and knowledge of rural communities from being appropriated by the expansion of neoliberal capitalism and the agri-food industry. Yet, culture and knowledge are also cashed in by these communities; they use their traditional knowledge to produce food and drinks in order to make profits in international markets, often employing cultural references when advertising their products. Indeed, GIs also promote market rationality by transforming traditional knowledge into an intellectual property right which can be used to access markets and obtain increased values (Guthman, 2007: 468-469). Thus, while GIs seek to limit the appropriation of culture and knowledge by corporate capitalism, they also contribute to their commodification.

What have we found so far?

This section sought to develop a more nuanced theory of GIs, moving beyond the existing literature, which focuses on how GIs seek to ‘re-embed’ agricultural production within local cultural and environmental contexts. Rather, GIs seek to balance the push for improvement with the need for habitation. It is, therefore, not a rejection of neoliberal capitalism or the global agri-food industry. Instead, GIs seek to allow rural communities to engage with global markets, while simultaneously allowing these communities to place limits on the reach of big corporate capitalism to protect their culture, traditions and natural surroundings. This tension is seen at the national level, but also at the international level where some nations are pushing for continued improvement, while others, particularly in the ‘old world’ have a greater need for habitation to ensure that their cultural, traditional and environmental resources are protected. Such an understanding allows us to see GIs as a policy which serves to both commodify and de-commodify these resources, rather than analysing GIs as a force which de-commodifies traditional products and ‘re-embeds’ them within local contexts. This new theoretical framework will now be applied to the case of Feta cheese PDO.

The Feta PDO

Having developed the Polanyian approach to GIs, this section uses the case study of Greek Feta to analyse the political economy of GIs and agriculture. These sections use the distinction between habitation and improvement to analyse who wins and who loses when a product receives GI status. It also seeks to analyse how GIs are not a form of resistance to neoliberal capitalism and the global agri-food industry, but a policy which seeks to allow producers to engage with the market while protecting their traditions, culture, livelihood and environment from the incursion of foreign competitors and multinational corporations.

Employing a case study approach is beneficial since it ‘results in a rich and holistic account of a phenomenon’ which can widen understandings and bring new issues to light (Merriam, 2009: 51). Feta provides a particularly relevant example as it has been at the centre of international debates over GI policy, while remaining an integral part of the Greek economy, culture and identity. It is hoped that by focusing on Feta, new insights will be uncovered, broadening the understanding of GIs. However, the critical issue with such an approach is that of generalisability; analysing a single case does not allow the researcher to generalise the findings to other contexts or scenarios (Zainal, 2007: 5). Indeed, cheeses such as Feta are unique in that they are central to ‘diets, spirituality, culture and political economy’ (Solecki, 2014: 4), producing conflicts which may not arise with other products. The purpose of this case study is not, however, to generalise the findings to all GI products, but rather to develop and test the Polanyian approach to GI protection (Ritzen et al, 2016).

The Feta PDO

Feta cheese has been produced in Greece since antiquity (Chrysopoulos, 2018), finding its origins in the arid hills behind Athens (Anifantakis, 1996: 49). This soft white cheese has become internationally renowned, owing to its salty, slightly acidic taste, and pleasant organoleptic properties (Ibid). Feta obtains its unique properties from the specific terroir of Greece. This is because the Greek landscape is predominantly mountainous/semi-mountainous, meaning that it is unsuitable for farming cows (Petridou, 2001: 55). Thus, rural areas of Greece have, for centuries, developed agricultural systems which predominately use goats and sheep; animals which are better suited to the harsh conditions (European Commission, 2002a: 5). The use of goat and sheep milk is what gives Feta its unique white colour, while the flora which these animals feed off contributes significantly to the cheese’s unique taste (European Commission, 2002b: 2). Further, traditional production techniques, such as ripening the cheese in barrels and using traditional rennet, contribute to Feta’s peppery taste and distinct aroma (Anifantakis, 1996: 54). Indeed, Feta is not only crucial to the Greek diet but also the economy; while the majority of Feta produced is for domestic consumption, roughly 40% of the 120,000 tons of Greek produced Feta is exported, bringing in approximately €370 million of revenue (Friends of Feta, 2019).

The PDO on Feta cheese was conferred on Greece by the EU in 2005; this gave Greek producers exclusive rights over the use of the label ‘Feta’ (Karaosmonoğlu, 2007: 435). The official standards of Feta production are set out in the 1988 Greek food and beverage code. Under this decree, Feta must be produced using goat and sheep milk from the geographical regions of Mainland Greece, the Peloponnese, Thessalia, Epirus, Macedonia, Thrace and Lesbos (European Commission, 2002b: 1). Further, the goat and sheep milk must come from breeds reared using traditional methods, while it is strictly prohibited for Feta producers to add colourants or preservatives (European Commission, 2002b: 22). These strict controls aim to maintain the reputation and quality of this famous Greek cheese.

Feta War One

The Feta PDO has proven controversial, creating tensions between Greece and its European neighbours. When Feta obtained PDO status in 1996, the decision fostered powerful resistance from Germany, Denmark and France; three countries that had been producing and marketing Feta for decades. For these nations, the label ‘Feta’ was generic; an attempt to give Greece exclusive use over Feta was viewed as an ‘anti-competitive quantitative restriction’ and would prevent them from being able to market their lawfully produced cheese (Gangjee, 2007: 8). Yet, the decision was again overturned in 2002 when the PDO was reinstated, with the European Commission unanimously concluding that Feta is not generic, a decision that was supported by the European Court of Justice in 2005 (Gangjee, 2007: 14-15).

At the heart of these disagreements is the tension between habitation and improvement. The Northern European nations were focused upon continuous improvement, seeking to achieve increases in profitability and yield (Petridou, 2005). These nations have access to an abundance of cows-milk (CIWF, 2012: 2), with many cow dairies managing huge herds and using technology-intensive farming techniques (Stock & Würger, 2014). Simultaneously, technologies have been developed to make use of the cheap supply of cow milk. This includes the development of ultra-filtration, a process which is much cheaper than the traditional method of straining (Gangjee, 2007: 6), as well as bleaching methods which gives Feta its whiteness, removing the yellow tinge that occurs with the use of cows milk (Petridou, 2001: 51). Thus, Greece’s European neighbours were able to produce vast amounts of Feta at low cost, with Denmark, France and Germany producing and selling 100,000 tons of Feta before the PDO (Mercer, 2008). In many cases, Greek culture was mobilised in order to market the Feta of these nations, with Northern European producers using ‘text or drawings with a marked Greek connotation’ (Gangjee, 2007: 17) on their packaging.

The expansion of Feta production by large agro-industries in Northern Europe put rural communities in Greece under great strain (Anthopoulou & Goussios, 2015: 2). Feta production is linked closely to the most disadvantaged regions of Greece (Friends of Feta, 2019), with sheep and goat farming providing a livelihood for approximately 115,000 families (Tsakalou & Vlahos, 2018: 102). In many cases, these pastoralists maintain only small herds of less than ten animals (Hadjigeorgiou, 2014: 3), while the majority of cheesemakers are small-scale, family-run, businesses that remain reliant on traditional production techniques and local socio-productive systems (Anthopoulou & Goussios, 2019: 124). Such communities are particularly reliant on sheep and goat farming, since much of the Greek countryside is mountainous or semi-mountainous, thus preventing the establishment of a more productivist dairy system based on cow’s milk (Anthopoulou & Goussios, 2015: 3). As such, rural communities in Greece were set to lose their livelihoods, unable to compete with the productivist systems of Denmark, France and Germany.

Additionally, the foreign competition in the market for Feta was seen not only as an infliction upon rural livelihoods but also as a threat to the Greek culture and environment. In terms of culture, Feta has ‘always formed a basic part of the diet of the Greek people and is directly related to their customs and history’ (European Commission, 2002b: 23). Indeed, Feta has particularly strong links with ancient Greek culture; the cheese is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey while Greek mythology maintains that ‘the art of cheesemaking was given as a valuable gift to the poor by the Gods of Olympus’ (European Commission, 2002b: 24). Similarly, Feta provides Greek citizens with a distinct sense of national heritage, reminding them of Greece’s mountainous countryside and culinary heritage, as well as traditional production techniques and ‘one’s bond with one’s village of origin’ (Anthopoulou & Goussios, 2015: 4).

Resultantly, the Northern Europeans were viewed by many Greeks as a direct threat to the nation; these countries had stolen Greek culture in their pursuit of profit and put the historical continuity of Greece at risk (Petridou, 2001: 52-56; Petridou, 2005). Yet, it was not only Greek culture that was at risk; the preservation of traditional pastoral farming and Feta production remains crucial to the conservation of the Greek countryside (Friends of Feta, 2019). This is because the grazing of goats and sheep plays a crucial role in maintaining a ‘rich mosaic of vegetation’ while also helping to create biodiversity (Hadjigeorgiou, 2011: 1). It is, therefore, crucial to Greece that Feta production continues if they are to maintain to the image of the Greek countryside- an area which boasts the richest flora in Europe (European Commission, 2002b: 7).

Thus, from the Greek perspective, there was a great need to protect the label of ‘Feta’ with PDO status in order to protect the culture, environment and rural communities of Greece. These arguments have been interpreted as an attempt to ‘re-embed’ the production of Feta within Greek society, therefore resisting neoliberal capitalism and the agri-food industries of Northern Europe (Anthopoulou & Goussios, 2019; Kizos & Vakoufaris, 2011; Petridou, 2005). Yet, the Feta PDO is not an attempt to seek an alternative to neoliberal capitalism or excessive production. Many of the larger producers who pushed for the GI saw the potential that a PDO on Feta could offer in terms of market position and therefore boosted production (Folkeson, 2005: 82). This has created issues of overgrazing, with the resultant effects of soil erosion and water pollution (Poux, 2006: 10). Further, Feta producers in Greece often use Greek imagery and writing on their packaging, while also uncovering new markets due to the rising popularity of the Mediterranean diet (Tsakalou & Vlahos, 2018: 44). Thus, a dialectical process is taking place; Greece has a desire ‘on the one hand, to "export" Greek culture and, on the other, to protect it’ (Petridou, 2005).

It is in this light that we see the Feta PDO as a force which serves to both commodify and de-commodify the Greek culture, traditions and environment. As such, the Feta PDO is an attempt to strike a balance between habitation and improvement. Greece wanted to safeguard rural communities and its natural and cultural resources from the expansion of neoliberal capitalism, while simultaneously allowing its producers to better engage in global markets in the pursuit of higher incomes and improved market positions. This has inhibited the drive for improvement in the Northern European states, with the Feta PDO reducing the export price and quantity of Feta from Denmark, France and Germany considerably (Agribusiness Consulting, 2019: 55-59).

Feta War Two

While the conflict over Feta between Greece and its European neighbours has settled, a new war over GIs has emerged between the US and the EU; the predominant players in world cheese production (Solecki, 2014: 10). Here, the conflict has many similarities with the intra-EU case. For the US, protecting items such as Feta with GI status is both costly and unnecessary, serving to exclude American producers from the market (USTR, 2019: 20). The EU’s demand for Feta to be protected in TTIP would be to the detriment of large US manufacturers, including Kraft Foods, who would see their markets shrink dramatically (Agribusiness Consulting, 2019: 28; Josling, 2006: 359). Indeed, the label ‘Feta’ is a crucial advertising tool for these corporations, enabling them to capitalise on the significant market opportunities that come with the presence of a substantial Greek American population and the popularity of the Mediterranean diet in the US (Greek Brands, 2019).

The GI policy would also be to the detriment of small, family-run, cheesemakers in America, many of which still use recipes brought over by their ancestors in the 1800s (Sanchez, 2014). These smaller businesses feel particular frustration since their Feta is often judged as being of higher quality than that of their Greek counterparts (CCFN, 2018). Therefore, the EU position on GIs, particularly on Feta, is seen as an impediment to the improvement of the EU dairy industry. For sure, the US dairy industry already suffers from a severe trade deficit with the EU (CCFN, 2019), with GI protection set to cost the industry billions of dollars (Blenkinsop, 2015) and resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs (Hoard’s Dairyman, 2019). Resultantly, a GI on Feta, along with other cheeses, would prevent the US from achieving ‘The Next 5 Percent’- and industry initiative which seeks to increase the ‘dairy export volume from approximately 15 percent of the U.S. milk supply to 20 percent’ (Ibid).

As such, the EU’s GI policy is an impediment for the improvement of the US dairy industry. For the EU, the goal of bilateral trade agreements such as TTIP is to find a balance between habitation and improvement; it wants to expand trade opportunities for its members while also ‘promoting and extending protection for its GIs’ (Cirlig, 2014: 20). Thus, the conflict can be seen as one between the ‘Old World’ and the ‘New World’- the Old World, including Greece, wants to engage in international markets, but in a manner that is tightly controlled to protect their integrity (Saavedra-Rivano, 2012: 25). Yet, there is evidence that the EU is changing its position, no longer protecting Feta in trade deals with Canada and South Africa (Friends of Feta, 2019). Under these deals, existing Canadian and South African producers of Feta can continue using the label without change, while new businesses in these countries can market their products under the name ‘Feta-imitation’ or ‘Feta-style’ cheese. Indeed, this is indicative of the peculiar nature of the EU; a political body which is committed to free trade but must also balance the interests of 28 diverse member nations (Ichijo & Ranta, 2016: 162). Here, the EU has sacrificed the Feta PDO to expand the trade opportunities of the union. This has been met with fierce criticism from the Greeks, who view the continued protection of Feta as integral to the maintenance of their culture and traditions, with the Greek government ready to veto TTIP if the deal does not ensure increased protection for Feta, a protection which is crucial to Greek agricultural production and the environment (Michalopoulos, 2016).

Feta PDO Effectiveness

Thus far, analysis of the Feta PDO has focused on balancing the need for habitation with the need for improvement. Still, evidence suggests that the Feta PDO is proving futile in providing habitation to the Greek people. For example, a key issue is that knowledge remains in the public domain; the PDO only prevents foreign producers from labelling their cheese as ‘Feta’, it does not prevent them from producing a similar cheese and marketing it under a different name (Rangnekar, 2004: 17). In the Feta case, the Danish multinational corporation, Arla Foods, has been able to maintain a large share of the market. Here, Arla undertook a strategy to distance its brand, Apetina, from the label of Feta (Mercer, 2008).

Resultantly, Arla has been able to translate Apetina in the minds of consumers so that when they look at Apetina in stores, they think of it as Feta (Ibid). Therefore, while the PDO prevented Danish firms from marketing ‘Feta’, their products are still available under the Apetina name (Arla, 2006: 17). This marketing relies on references to the Greek diet, often using Greek salads on the packaging. The Apetina cheese, produced using cows milk, has proved highly successful, becoming the number one product in northwest Europe while also penetrating the expanding market in Eastern Europe (Mercer, 2008). This brings into question whether the PDO has been at all effective in safeguarding rural communities in Greece and preventing foreign interests from appropriating the knowledge and culture which lies behind the production of Feta.

Further, the Feta PDO has produced unequal benefits for producers in Greece, bringing into doubt whether the policy has benefited rural communities and their environment. Here, the expansion of the market for Feta has been exploited predominately by a few large dairies; companies who use their technical and organisational capacities to adapt to new opportunities (Anthopoulou & Goussios, 2019: 124). This includes the ability to collect milk across a wide radius, while also benefiting from economies of scale through the standardisation and modernisation of production techniques (Anthopoulou & Goussios, 2015: 1). Similarly, these large firms have benefitted from improvements in transportation networks and the creation of supermarket chains in Greece, allowing them to sell large amounts of Feta with relative ease (Hadjigeorgiou et al, 1998: 8). These developments have served mainly to exclude the smaller dairies and cheesemakers in Greece. While three to four large firms have benefited, smaller producers lack business knowledge (Tsakalou & Vlahos, 2018: 141), and have been unable to make the required investments in infrastructure to upgrade their equipment and facilities, particularly after the 2008 financial crash (Tsakalou & Vlahos, 2018: 131). As such, PDO protection is not enough to adequately protect rural communities; they require financial support and must be able to partake in the production process in a fair manner.

Simultaneously, there is a lack of oversight in the Feta industry, enabling large companies to engage in fraud. In this case, large food producers in Greece are importing sheep’s milk from outside the designated area, usually from Spain and Bulgaria where the cost is approximately 19 cents less per kilo (Tsakalou & Vlahos, 2018: 133). This has the consequence of excluding small sheep and goat farms from the production chain, while also driving down the price of Feta, effectively destroying the market for smaller cheese producers (Ibid). Indeed, the issue of milk fraud appears widespread; Pidiaki et al (2016) report that out of 34 samples of Feta taken from supermarkets and restaurants in the region of Thessaly, 42% contained adulterated milk. This highlights the need for much stricter controls on the production of Feta since the PDO is not adequately protecting the majority of pastoralists and cheesemakers in Greece.

The Feta PDO has proven futile in providing habitation to many people in Greece, failing to insulate rural communities and their environment from harm. Increasingly, the dairy sector is exposed to the forces of modernisation and intensification, processes which have led to the relocation of production from the mountainous areas to the lowlands that are close to civic centres (Hadjigeorgiou, 2014: 3). The reorganisation of the dairy sector has pushed milk production in Greece towards a system that uses harvested feeds and fenced off land (Hadjigeorgiou, 2014: 8), as well as the use of intensive indoor systems which use feeds bought in from other EU nations (Poux, 2006: 35).

These developments have been to the detriment of traditional pastoralists and cheesemakers in the rural areas of Greece since they are unable to obtain a fair price for their products (Tsakalou & Vlahos, 2018: 23). Resultantly, there has been a tendency for rural producers to disappear; ‘sheep and goat farms have reduced by 59% for sheep and 73% for goats’, while cheesemaking becomes increasingly industrialised (Tsakalou & Vlahos, 2018: 101-102). Yet, it is these small farmers and producers who ensure the reproduction of the agri-pastoral systems in the Greek countryside; the loss of these small dairies and farms, therefore, means ‘risking the loss of cultural heritage resources in territories with a strong pastoral identity’ (Anthopoulou & Goussios, 2015: 5). Further, losing these communities is not only eroding culture and traditional knowledge, but also the environment. The decay of the pastoral system has led to ‘the loss of locally adapted open-habitat species’ (Tzanopoulos et al, 2011: 585), as well as changes in vegetation dynamics which have produced uncontrollable forest fires (Hadjigeorgiou, 2011: 13). Thus, the PDO has proven futile in providing habitation to the Greek people and their natural surroundings.


A re-reading of Polanyi’s TGT was forwarded, drawing upon Polanyi’s distinction between the need for improvement and the need for habitation. Under this approach, commodification and de-commodification are simultaneous and interacting forces in the evolution of capitalism. In applying this re-reading to the case of GIs, it was argued that GIs are not a form of resistance to neoliberal capitalism. Instead, GIs resemble an attempt to balance the need for habitation and improvement. This means that GIs seek to allow rural communities to engage with global markets in search of profit while simultaneously limiting incursions from big corporate capitalism. Resultantly, GIs do not reject neoliberal capitalism; they enable actors to commodify and cash in on their cultural, traditional and environmental resources. Yet, they also serve to safeguard these resources from being destroyed by the global agri-food industry.

In applying this re-reading to the case of Feta, valuable insights were gained. Feta is crucial to the nation of Greece, sitting at the heart of Greek culture and traditions while also preserving rural communities and their environment. Yet, with the expansion of global markets and the development of production technologies in foreign countries, Greek Feta has come under attack. Thus, the PDO granted to Feta can be seen as key to the maintenance of Greece; it safeguards the Greek people from excessive competition from abroad, preventing large foreign firms from stealing Greek culture and traditions in the name of profit. However, the PDO also creates a price premium for Feta, enabling Greek producers to cash in on their cultural and environmental resources in global markets. As such, the PDO is to the benefit of Greek firms, while firms in Northern Europe and America are likely to see their market share fall.

The Feta case also demonstrated how the PDO system can fail in providing habitation to many in Greece. The PDO has not prevented large agri-food firms from continuing to produce Feta, with Arla foods dominating a large part of the market. Similarly, a few large corporations have appropriated the benefits of the PDO, excluding the many small pastoralists in rural areas. These large producers have served to drive down the price of Feta as well as goat and sheep milk, often using cheaper cow’s milk imported from around Europe. Resultantly, pastoral communities in the Greek countryside, who relied on Feta production, are falling away. This has led to the disappearance of a rich cultural heritage, environmental damage and a loss of biodiversity. Resultantly, the PDO is not enough in itself to provide habitation. Tighter control is needed to ensure that the production rules are followed. Similarly, smaller dairies require further support so that they can continue to operate, possibly in the form of a subsidy which would ensure that they receive a fair price for their milk.


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