France struggles with lack of butter

But as the BBC explains, the butter is there; it's just not accessible to the French.

France is facing its worst butter shortage (of sorts) since the Second World War. For the French people, who take their butter very seriously and eat a record-breaking 18 pounds per capita annually (three times what is eaten in the U.S.), this is a matter for great concern.

Bakers, pastry-makers, food suppliers, farmers, and shoppers have been warned of an impending shortage for months, but the issue has become hotly contentious of late, now that supermarket fridges are failing to be restocked. A #beurregate hashtag has popped up on Twitter and a mock film about butter scarcity in Brittany, complete with robbers stealing at gunpoint and illegal churning taking place in motorhomes, has been posted online. Some grocers are leaving notes taped to the fridge doors, apologizing for the lack of butter:

"The butter market is facing an unprecedented shortfall in raw materials which is causing supply problems to this store."

Croissant makers, whose decadent pastries can be one-quarter butter, are particularly concerned, with many unable to maintain normal production levels and forced to raise prices. Some have had to get rid of employees or drastically reduce their hours. One pastry-maker in central France told The Guardian:

"We’ve been on rationed supplies since mid August. We are only receiving a tonne a week when we need three tonnes ... We cannot go on like this for much longer."

French breakfast© K Martinko -- My Parisian breakfast, ca. 2013

There are a number of factors contributing to the butter shortage. First of all, poor weather and fodder crops in 2016 resulted in low yield from dairy cows. This followed right on the heels of the EU putting an end to milk quotas in 2015, which led to immediate rush to produce dairy, a subsequent collapse in milk prices, and finally dairy farmers slashing their outputs because of the low prices. As a result, the price per tonne has risen from €2,500 in April 2016 to €7,000 this summer.

Second, butter's image has improved in recent years and many people in Asia (especially China, whose taste for Western-style pastries is growing rapidly), the Middle East, and North America are now eager to eat more butter. As the BBC reports:

"Consumers are moving back to butter. After years in which we were told animal fat was bad, today the advice is changing. Now, the demon is sugar. Butter has been rehabilitated, and we can spread with pride."

However, as the BBC explains, technically there is butter available, but it's being sent elsewhere in the world. And because France has a unique system where it sets the price of butter once a year in negotiations between supermarkets and producers (usually in February), it has not been able to increase its prices -- which is what other European nations have done. As a result, French butter producers are choosing to sell their butter elsewhere, where they can make more money. So...

"No, there is no lack of butter. France still makes plenty of it. However the butter is now going to places other than where the householder expects to buy it. So yes, there is a lack of butter." (BBC)

It all sounds very confusing -- all the more so when it cannot be mulled over with a croissant and café au lait in hand. Let's just hope production picks up again in the winter, as it's expected to, and French life can go back to normal.

Tags: Agriculture | Food Miles | Food Security | France

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