One of the more enduring skits from "Monty Python's Flying Circus" features a flummoxed John Cleese trying but failing to secure a serving of cheese from a cheese monger who has no stock.
Cleese recites a list of most of the cheeses produced in Europe, from stilton to gouda, camembert to edam, only to learn that the shop is awaiting a delivery or experiencing some other calamity, such as the shop's cat eating the last of the camembert.
Americans - who consumed 10.6 billion pounds of cheese in 2012, an average of 33.5 pounds each, according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board - could experience a situation as frustrating as that faced by Mr. Cleese if European producers have their way.
The EU is trying to restrict the common use of cheese names that are derived from geography - a long list including asiago, feta, parmesan, muenster, gorgonzola, roguefort, piave, camembert and on and on.
Such restrictions already apply to some other products. Champagne comes only from the Champagne region of France, for example; other sparking wines must be called something else, even if they are produced by methode champenois. Parma ham is from Parma and so on.
The difference with cheeses is that the place names already have become common nouns for the types of cheese regardless of where they are produced. Attempts now by EU producers to keep the names for themselves are nothing more than an attempt at erecting trade barriers.
If the EU succeeds, it seriously could harm U.S. producers and farmers in major dairy states such as Pennsylvania. Canada, for example, recently agreed as part of a new trade agreement with the EU to place restrictions on the use of "feta." That could impede U.S. exports to Canada.
Sen. Pat Toomey and Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, have launched an effort to reject the EU effort. The United States should not agree to any restriction that rolls back generations of common usage, and it should ensure than any U.S. trading partner who agrees to the EU restrictions pays a price in terms of their own access to the massive U.S. market.