By Ethan Bilby
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Will "wading sea cows" achieve the sort of name recognition enjoyed by champagne and Parmesan cheese? Promoters hope so.
The meat from "vadehavsstude," or cows who graze on Denmark's west coast, is the latest product to receive protected geographical food name status from the European Union.
The protection covers the meat from Holstein cows raised in the marshes of the Wadden, or literally wading, sea in southwestern Jutland.
"It gives us a good stamp on a good product that we have. We sought this approval so that it could be known more widely," Andreas Andreasen, who represents an association of local farmers, told Reuters on Monday.
The beef is said to gain a distinct flavor from the meadows' salt content, in a grazing tradition that goes back 1,000 years. "Chefs have told us there is a distinct difference in the meat's taste from other cows out there - a more powerful taste," said Andreasen.
According to the Danish Ministry of Food, blind taste tests of the Wadden Sea beef proved that the meat was more tender, juicier and fragrant than conventional beef.
Over 1,000 such designations of origin have been registered since the EU scheme began in 1992, the idea being that protected names signify authentic products from distinct geographic areas.
The EU says the protection denotes quality and helps farmers reconnect with consumers in a modern era when shoppers may live thousands of kilometers away from where goods are produced.
But the designations have also drawn criticism of member states accused of using them to claim sole ownership of generic product names.
At the moment the protections are mostly only enforceable in the European Union, but the 27-member trading bloc has pushed their expansion to other markets such as China through bilateral trade agreements.
In 2005, Denmark was one of Europe's largest producers of feta cheese but was forced to stop using the name after the European Commission awarded Greece the sole right to the term. Danish producers now refer to their product as "salad cheese".
For now the producers of Denmark's fourth protected product are still only seeing beef sales domestically, but they hope their own foray into protected naming will soon change that.
Otherwise, they also make Wadden Sea mutton.
(Editing by Charlie Dunmore and Mark Heinrich)