France allows charities to take horsemeat meals

The French government has given the green light for food aid charities to hand out thousands of recalled ready meals containing horsemeat to the country’s most needy.

France allows charities to take horsemeat meals
Volunteers from the 'Restos du coeur' ('Restaurants with heart') food charity in Paris on November 26th, 2012. Photo: Patrick Kovarik

French supermarkets including frozen food giant Picard have recalled thousands of ready-made dishes found to contain horsemeat, despite being labelled as beef.

Not wishing to see tonnes of food go to waste, three food aid charities – Restos du Coeur (restaurants with heart), Secours Populaire (People rescue) and Banque Alimentaire (the food bank) – expressed an interest in getting hold of the meals and re-distributing them among the poor, as long as they posed no health risk.

They called on the French government to allow them the chance to commandeer the meals from the various companies

On Thursday Consumer Affairs Minister Benoît Hamon answered their call giving the green light for Findus and Picard and other companies caught up in the scandal to hand over the dinners as long as they were re-labelled.

"Those who benefit from these meals have the right to know what they are eating," Hamon told RMC radio.

The ball is now in the court of the charities who will have to decide whether they have the money and the means to take the frozen meals, which will need to be transported in special refrigerated trucks.

"We can understand if the charities refuse," Hamon said. "It is up to them as to whether they take them or not."

Speaking to The Local earlier this month, the director of the French Federation of Food Banks, Maurice Lony, said their goal "is to fight waste".

"These products are now in storage, awaiting some sort of resolution," he said. "So if they can’t be sold, we could take them and distribute them to deprived people."

However, Lony pointed out that his organization would also need health tests to be performed before handing them out, as well as gauging the appetites of food-bank users around the country, a process which he says they have already started.

“In the north of France there’s more of a culture of eating horsemeat, so people in that region are saying ‘yes’ to the meals. But in the south-west, for example, our users would be less ready to take the products,” said Lony.

When asked whether he himself would eat one of the packaged meals in question, Lony replied “Yes, it wouldn't bother me.”

The French Red Cross have said however that they would not be interested in handing out the frozen meals found to contain horsemeat on moral grounds.

"Products that are not offered to the general public should not be offered to the poor," an official told Europe1 radio. "It is a question of dignity."

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Fine dining French the world’s biggest scoffers of pizza

The latest study on French eating habits suggests the locals have a love affair with foreign foods, well one in particular.

Fine dining French the world's biggest scoffers of pizza
Photo: Ben britten/Zack MiddletonFlickr

France is the undisputed home of gastronomy (whatever the Italians might say) but it appears the natives are far happier dining out on pizzas and burgers.

A new study released has revealed the French have an ever-increasing appetite for foreign fast food – often at the expense of their own Gallic grub like the classic jambon-beurre baguette.

One of the revelations in the report by food consultancy company Gira Conseil was that the French are now the world champions at pizza-eating, with only the Americans matching their appetite for the dish.

The Italians meanwhile languish in tenth place when it comes to pizza consumption.

In fact to put it into numbers the French ate a stomach-churning 819 million pizzas in 2015. That's ten million margaritas more than the 809 million they scoffed in 2014. 

That figure includes frozen pizzas bought in supermarkets and those eaten out at pizzerias, which accounts for 51 percent of all pizzas consumed in France)

“Pizza is a hit in France,” said Bernard Boutboul, director of Gira Conseil, stating the obvious.

But why? Boutboul suggests the reason is because it's might be to do with the fact that a contrast to the sit down, mind your manners, meals French people are used to.

“First of all because it’s a dish which you share, which fits in with our culture based on conviviality,” Boutboul explained, adding that dough or bread-based foods topped with a choice of ingredients “always work very well”.

Another reason is the price. Given that the average price of a pizza is €6.27 it means it constitutes an affordable dinner.

The favourite pizza is the Reine (tomato sauce, ham, cheese and mushrooms); this and the margherita alone account for half of France's pizza consumption, showing that while they may be willing to try foreign food, they aren't prepared to be too adventurous with the ingredients.

But it's not just pizzas the French are scoffing in their millions.

Another shock for those who view France as traditionalists when it comes to food is the country's ever growing “burger mania”.

French people scoffed 1.19 billion burgers in 2015, up 11.21 percent from the previous year. The snack is becoming so popular that it looks set to topple the classic jambon-buerre (ham and butter) sandwich from its pedestal. Sales of this traditional sandwich have declined for the second year running, though they were still sold 1.23 billion times last year.

One problem is that the jambon-buerre is becoming more expensive. Its average price-tag rose by 3.67 percent to €2.84 last year, and is priciest in big cities, reaching €3.40 in Paris. Meanwhile, burgers and pizzas are becoming a more affordable option as the prices for both saw an overall drop last year.

Gira Conseil's Boutboul revealed: “75 percent of French restaurants now have a burger on the menu, and 80 percent of those tell us it has become their biggest seller.”

Fast food chains, particularly American imports Burger King and McDonald's are only partly responsible for the trend representing 34 percent of all the burgers sold in France.

Nevertheless Burger King and McDonald's are hugely popular in France, with Burger King having taken over the 509 branches of French chain Quick, leading Boutboul to call its level of success “unheard of”

And following in the footsteps of “burger mania” is “bagel mania”.

Last winter bagels emerged as France's latest foodie trend, offering yet another alternative to baguettes and croissants.

The times they are a changing.