Slovenia: Balsamic vinegar dispute with Italy goes to court

Specialty of Modena
Italy sues Slovenia over balsamic vinegar

A man bottle of vinegar

“Aceto Balsamico di Modena” is a quality seal that only vinegar producers from Modena are allowed to wear. The Italian government wants to defend this cultural asset by all means.

© Shotshop / Imago Images

Two words that cause a lot of fuss: “Aceto Balsamico”. Because Italy sees the world-famous balsamic vinegar of Modena in danger, the government in Rome files a lawsuit against Slovenia.

Pizza, pasta, espresso – the list of Italian delicacies is long. And the country’s government fiercely defends these culinary cultural assets. The focus is currently on balsamic vinegar, a specialty that is unique in the world and is produced in the northern Italian province of Modena. The vinegar is obtained through the traditional processing of grape must and wine vinegar, which ages in barrels of fine wood and thus acquires a special aroma. Since 2009, the term “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” is a protected term that only producers in Modena and the Emilia-Romagna region are allowed to use.

This seal of quality must be protected. According to the Guardian, the country’s Minister of Agriculture, Stefano Patuanelli, said the protection of Italian wine and food is a priority and the government will do everything in its power to protect these products from “illegal attacks”. The Southern European country accuses its neighbor Slovenia of such an “attack”. In the eyes of the Slovenian government, all wine vinegars mixed with grape must should be allowed to be called “Aceto Balsamico”. According to Italy, this standardized use of the term is a danger for traditional producers in Modena, for a long-standing tradition and a market worth a billion euros.

Dispute over balsamic vinegar may end up in the European Court of Justice

The conflict has been simmering since last year, when Slovenia notified the European Commission of plans to “standardize” vinegar production, the Guardian reports. This project “is not only in clear contradiction with the Community rules and the principle of harmonization of European law, but also aims to transform the designation ‘balsamic vinegar’ into a standard designation,” the Austria Press Agency told the consortium for protection of the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.

In the north of Modena there are a number of producers and suppliers of the world famous vinegar "Balsamic Vinegar of Modena"which is allowed to carry this special quality seal.

In the north of Modena, there are a number of producers and suppliers of the world-famous vinegar “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” which are allowed to carry this special seal of quality.

© Pietro Scozzari / Imago Images

Former Prime Minister Mario Draghi backed the consortium and gave prosecutors the green light to launch infringement proceedings. The government in Rome then filed a lawsuit against Slovenia with the EU Commission. “The opening of infringement proceedings against Slovenia lifts our spirits, the government in Rome is on our side,” Asyn Consortium President Mariangela Grosoli said on Monday. “After months of waiting and worrying, we finally see a glimmer of hope.”

Protected term applies only to producers of Modena

After a consultation phase with the EU Commission, the lawsuit may end up before the European Court of Justice. The Slovenian Ministry of Agriculture replied that the issue of vinegar is not regulated in the EU. Each country may have its own regulations. The ECJ could agree. The “Guardian” refers to a similar case from 2019. At the time, Italian balsamic vinegar manufacturers lost a lawsuit against a German company. The manufacturer labeled his products with the terms “Balsamico” and “German Balsamico”.

The court noted that although the protected term “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” can only be used by producers within a specific geographical area, there are no restrictions on the “aceto” or “aceto balsamico”. According to the ruling, the name “aceto” is common and “balsamic” is simply an adjective commonly used to refer to a vinegar with a bittersweet taste.

Sources: Austria Press Agency, “The Guardian”

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