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EU food packaging vote causes cultural stink over Camembert
22 November 2023, 10:04
The move could remove the cheese’s famous round wooden box.
A culinary issue has erupted as the European Parliament prepares to vote on a proposal about packaging waste.
Some French producers fear that the language of the proposal would mean that Camembert cheese would no longer be encased in wooden boxes.
Many people have protested against this, calling it a matter of national pride for France – as well as a matter of common sense.
Now legislators will vote on the plan that includes a special exemption for cheeses with the prized designation of controlled protection of origin.
The round box is as essentially Camembert as its unctuous texture and pungent smell.
Jean-Paul Garraud, a member of the European Parliament for France’s far-right Rassemblement National, said: “It is a matter of common sense. Don’t touch our Camemberts!”
If forced into something easier to recycle like plastic, the perfect breathing of the cheese through wood might otherwise get sweaty and flabby.
Wood, though, is very hard to recycle sustainably, so the EU plans to move it out of food packaging as much as possible.
Even Gen Charles de Gaulle, the French Second World War hero and later president of the nation, knew all about the cheese issue. “How do you want to run a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?” he once complained.
The centre-right European People’s Party, the biggest group in the European Parliament with a traditional farming electorate and penchant for heritage protection, came to the defence of the wooden boxes for Camembert and other cheeses.
French MEP Laurence Sailliet said: “Our French cheeses are loved all over the world. But who can imagine a Camembert or a Mont d’Or without its wooden strapping? Packaging them in plastic would be a gustatory and environmental aberration.
“Europe must know how to protect the environment, but never to the detriment of the specific characteristics of its member states,” she added.
And food is unquestionably one of the touchiest characteristics.
Anti-EU food rows were taken to the extreme in the years leading up to Brexit in the UK, with former prime minister Boris Johnson, then still a Brussels journalist, leading the tabloid assault with stories claiming that the EU would insist that bananas would have to be straight, and would eliminate beloved British biscuits.
This arguably helped turn the United Kingdom against the EU, with voters deciding to leave in the 2016 referendum.
France is very far from that stage, but environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius said on Tuesday that the EU would make sure that the raw-milk specialised non-industrial Camemberts – those that have a controlled designation of origin – will be exempt from any regulation.
The vote on Wednesday will include such an exemption.
“Indeed, in the EU, certain food packaging made of wood, textiles, ceramics are placed on the market in very small quantities, and many of them protected by the food quality legislation,” Mr Sinkevicius said.
“Such packaging may have difficulties to be recycled at scale and is open for specific exemptions.”