California Rice Farmer Defends Freedom to Market Using Common Rice Varietal Names

Derek Sohnrey at podium, Defending Common Names presentation
California rice grower Derek Sohnrey answers the question: what's in a name?
Mar 06, 2023
WASHINGTON, DC – Last Wednesday, Durham, California, rice grower and 2023 Rice Leadership Program graduate Derek Sohnrey, participated in the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) media event that was moderated and livestreamed by Agri-Pulse and hosted in the U.S. Capitol.

CCFN is an independent, international alliance whose goal is to work with leaders in agriculture, trade, and intellectual property rights to foster the adoption of high standards and model geographical indication guidelines throughout the world.  The Consortium’s efforts are led primarily by the U.S. dairy industry and supported by USA Rice.

In addition to rice representation, there were also speakers representing the dairy, meat, and wine industries and several key Congressional guests, including:  Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS), Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE), and Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA).

Sohnrey provided remarks at the event on behalf of USA Rice, geared toward concerns around protecting common rice varietal names like Arborio, Basmati, and Jasmine.  These varieties did not originate in the U.S. but are grown domestically and have become an important part of diversifying U.S. rice production.  While his family does not farm any varieties outside of medium grain Japonica-type rice, the Sohnrey family’s retail business does sell California-grown specialty varieties.
“The government of India has repeatedly and systematically worked to trademark the name Basmati in markets across the world, including in the U.S.  Any efforts to restrict the use of Basmati, Jasmine, and Arborio to rice that’s grown in India, Thailand, and Italy would be detrimental to our marketing efforts and have a direct impact on the families that grow that premium rice,” said Sohnrey.

He added: “Our industry applauds the efforts led by the U.S. dairy industry to protect U.S. farmers and processors from being the victim of unfair and unjustified geographical indicators.   I am hopeful that we can preserve the names, diversity of crops, and freedom to market our wholesome products so that my three children can continue our family’s agricultural legacy.”

Despite continued efforts by the Government of India to trademark Basmati in the U.S., the U.S. Patent and Trademark Offices has not allowed the petition to advance.  U.S. Arborio, Basmati, and Jasmine are all grown in California and in southern rice-producing states.