French beef and dairy organisations are working with producers to satisfy consumer concerns about food safety, animal welfare and environmental impact, while promoting meat and milk to an increasingly ‘flexitarian’ palate.
Guy Hermoet, president of meat producers organisation Interbev, said while meat was a central part of the French diet, people were cutting down.
Mr Hermoet said: “While 88 per cent of those surveyed say they like meat, 60 per cent want to eat less of it. Our goal is to offer access to better quality food and our industry has access to a lot of assets and know-how to achieve this.”
One initiative is the ‘label rouge’ assurance scheme, best known in poultry production, but with a new standard for beef being published this autumn.
While acknowledging organic meat production was likely to double in the next five years, this ‘middle way’ was targeting 40 per cent of the market, explained Mr Hermoet.
He added: “The standard offers better quality meat, with 80 per cent food autonomy on-farm, no genetically modified organisms [GMOs] or palm oil and controls on antibiotic use.
“Animal welfare is also ensured by a tool which allows farms to be certified against the five basic rights laid down by the Farm Animal Welfare Council.”
This year, Interbev has also launched a new campaign entitled ‘Love meat, eat better’ with the strapline ‘naturally flexitarian’, using a website detailing the industry’s commitment to producing sustainable meat.
The dairy industry has had a long-term focus on quality; price has been based on quality since 1969 and 108 million tests of milk and processed products are carried out by independent laboratories each year.
Caroline le Poultier, director general of CNIEL, an organisation established in 1973 to create a link between producers and processors, explained ‘France: land of milk’, a strategic plan for the industry, was presented to President Emmanuel Macron in December 2017.
She said: “Our plan is to disseminate information to farmers so they can negotiate on an equal footing, to commit to social responsibility and promote segments consumers can understand.”
These segments, she said, included organic dairying, which makes up 2.4 per cent of all milk collected, a specification for feed and grazing which is GMO-free, and tightening up AOP designations for regional products, which include 45 cheeses, three butters and two creams.
Value vs. volume
MILK prices averaging 35.83 cents per litre (30.76ppl) in 2019 are a major source of concern for the dairy industry in France.
Caroline le Poultier, CNIEL, said: “While prices for other food products have increased by 10 per cent in the last decade, dairy prices have stagnated. Average incomes for dairy farmers are well below the average for the general population.”
With production at 24 billion litres annually, the dairy sector represents 25 per cent of all food produced in France and there are 743 processing sites, including those run by five companies in the top 25 globally, such as Danone, Lactalis and Bel.
She added: “What value is being created is not coming back to farmers. Volumes are sufficient, so as an industry we need to focus on quality.”
Global consumption of milk Value vs. volume products grows by 2.5 per cent annually, and 40 per cent of French production is exported. Key markets outside Europe include the USA and Asia.
Ms le Poultier said: “We need to promote responsible exports, appropriate to local markets and their food cultures.”
She added Brexit was a concern to French producers.
She said: “The UK is an important market and a number of our businesses have factories in the country. Brexit could have an impact on the price of milk, so we are watching developments carefully.”