The fight for ġbejna continues to heat up as sheep and goat herders protest against the actions of cow herders who intervened in the former’s bid to have the ġbejna – made with sheep’s milk – recognised as a product with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), but Koperativa Produtturi Ħalib’s President has come out clarifying why the milk giant is opposing the designation.

“We simply said that over time there were always ġbejniet made with cow’s milk and with sheep’s milk,” explained Brian Vella.

Koperativi Produtturi tal-Ħalib are majority owners of Malta Dairy Products Ltd (MDP), which produces the Benna line.

“We don’t have anything against it being called ġbejna tan-nagħġa, as we do, calling our product a ġbejna from cow’s milk.”

In fact, official minutes of the consulation meeting with the MCCAA shows that the dairy producers did suggest the sheep herders change their application to protect the term ġbejna tan-nagħaġ.

“We would have been happy and proud of our fellow herdsmen if they got the PDO for ġbejniet from goat’s milk,” said Mr Vella.

“But you can’t take the word ġbejna from us,” he continued. “It’s the diminutive form of ‘ġobna’ – cheese.”

He likened the situation to that for bread, saying, “It’s the same as ħbejża. Imagine one particular breadmaker decided to take ownership of the word ‘ħbejża’ and not allow any other bakers to use it.”

“That’s the situation we were up against, and we had no choice but to protect our members’ interests. It’s not a word that can be made exclusive. That’s why the case was lost.”

Mr Vella was at pains to clarify that KPĦ and its subsidiary MDP support any initiatives to better maltese products and gain international recognition, but that this “should not come at our expense.”

“We didn’t want this conflict, we’re all herdsmen at the end of the day. All we did was defend what is right.”

Mr Vella believes there was a competitive element to the bid, saying the sheep and goat herders “wanted to take the word ġbejna from us”.

“They could have applied for a designation for ġbejniet from goat’s milk, but they didn’t do that.”

“It’s a clear fact of language that ġbejna is a cheeselet, a small cheese,” he says. “It’s not controversial. We didn’t wake up one morning and decide this.”

Asked whether there is any potential for a joint bid to recognise ġbejniet made with different kinds of milk as products with a Protected Designation of Origin, Mr Vella says that KPĦ is always open to collaboration.

“As KPĦ we work with everybody. We never wanted anyone to fail. All we wanted was that they don’t take anything from us.”

“Ġbejniet have aways been made from different milks, there’s cows milk, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk. As long as one writes the source of the product on the label, there should not be any problems. Consumers are intelligent and know what they want, what they prefer.”

European products marked with a PDO are protected from copycats. These include champagne, which can only be produced in the Champagne region of France.

It is meant to support local producers and weed out misleading labelling while enforcing quality production.

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