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FOOD & DRINK

ANALYSIS: Is France food self-sufficient?

The war in Ukraine and, in the longer term, climate change have prompted concerns about supplies and cost of food - but would France be able to produce enough to feed its population if necessary?

ANALYSIS: Is France food self-sufficient?
(Photo: Jean-Philippe Ksiazek / AFP)

As food prices rise in France and elsewhere, questions over the country’s food security and self-sufficiency have been asked.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – a major exporter of wheat, corn and oil – has affected global markets, with prices for such products increasing dramatically, while sanctions imposed on Russia – the world’s biggest wheat exporter – following the invasion are also hitting prices. 

It has also prompted questions as to whether, if necessary, France could feed the 67 million people who call it home, while both the European Commission and the G7 set out plans to safeguard global food security. 

Unlike other countries, such as Switzerland, France does not have a formal policy of self sufficiency for food – though it does have a policy for energy security.

READ ALSO Why is France so obsessed with nuclear power?

“There is no risk of shortage in France because our agriculture and our agri-food sectors are strong and sovereign,” former agriculture minister Julien Denormandie said on March 16th, while acknowledging that the industry faced a number of challenges.

He pointed to the economic and social resilience plan published by ex-Prime Minister Jean Castex to protect the French economy from the the effects of the Ukraine war, and which included measures to, “secure our producers, our processors as well as our agricultural and food production from 2022.”

Food prices, as predicted, have risen, both for imports and for domestically produced goods as farmers are hit by rising costs for fuel. The agriculture industry has been among the sectors consulted and farmers have been singled out for support, in order that they will be able to minimise price rises to consumers.

In April 2020, at the height of the Covid pandemic, it was estimated that France imports about 20 percent of its food.

But France – a food exporter – could feed its entire population, according to a report by the think tank Utopies, published in April. There’s a reason the country has been referred to as the ‘bread basket of Europe’.

The study found that France currently meets 60 percent of its own food needs, but has the potential to become self-sufficient. The report said that the 26 percent of food products currently grown in France for export or incorporation into processed food could be used to cover 98 percent of France’s domestic needs, the report said.

Food processing in France, of which some 24 percent is currently exported, could cover 114 percent of the country’s needs in that sector, it added.

Of course food ‘needs’ don’t include luxury imported items like exotic fruits, chocolate and coffee, so diets would see a change in a completely self-sufficient France.

More recently, drought has also prompted short-term concerns, with French farmers worried about their harvests this year. 

France is the EU’s biggest wheat exporter, and one of the top five in the world. But hopes that French farmers would be able to offset at least some of the shortfall in the world’s supply of grain following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been hit by the record low rainfall so far this year, which have prompted warnings of a large drop in yields.

ALSO READ ‘No region has been spared’: Why the dry weather in France is causing concern

The forecast is for a smaller than usual French wheat harvest this year. With wheat-producing states in the US such as Kansas and Oklahoma also suffering in drought conditions, a poor harvest in France this year could be particularly significant – and could lead to wheat prices rising even higher in the short term.

At the height of the pandemic, president of the Fédération nationale des syndicats d’exploitants agricoles (FNSEA) Christiane Lambert told Les Echos that there were two key pillars to ensuring food security and independence in France – the ability to produce and the ability to store. 

“No one bought French flour anymore because foreign flour was cheaper,” Lambert said. “So we produced less. But with the coronavirus crisis, it was necessary to respond to demand and therefore relaunch the production lines by running them day and night to avoid shortages.”

French agriculture was able to meet the challenge then. “We have in France a complete ecosystem which allows us to control all the links in the food chain … It must be preserved if we want to be sovereign over our food,” Lambert added.

But there would need to be a change in philosophy about food, according to Les Republicains’ senator Laurent Duplomb.

In France, “entry-level” agricultural products are mainly imported, since authorities have insisted on reorienting domestic production towards quality over quantity.

“We must also stop focusing on high-end agriculture because food sovereignty means being able to produce for everyone,” Duplomb said back in 2020. 

“The risk in a few years is to have two French consumers. The first will have the means to buy top-of-the-range French products, the second will be condemned to consume only imported products since France will no longer produce them.”

Member comments

  1. It would be great to see France allow the trade/exchange of fruit and veg ‘over the gate’ so small domestic growers with a bit of surplus can actually benefit their local communities as pricing is generally lower than what you see in supermarkets or at markets.

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FOOD & DRINK

Rosé, spritz and pressé: 5 things to drink in France this summer

Summer in France means lots of things - trips to the beach, empty cities, works on the Paris Metro - but it also ushers in rosé and spritz season. Here's some of the best options to drink in France this summer.

Rosé, spritz and pressé: 5 things to drink in France this summer

Rosé

Wine is a pretty popular product all year round, but as soon as the sunny days arrive, the shelves of your local cave or supermarket will be filled with rosé.

Rosé wines sometimes get a bad reputation abroad, but there are plenty of excellent vins rosé in France, especially the ones from the rosé heartland of Provence, the majority of which are dry, not sweet.

It’s often served as a pre-dinner drink (an apéro) but it also pairs well with food so you’ll see it on restaurant wine lists. 

Rosé wine is not a mix of red wine and white wine, instead it’s made from red wine grapes but using a different technique in which the skin of the grapes is removed earlier, meaning that the skins do not impart their red colour to the wine. Rosé is in fact the oldest wine type in France – the ancient Romans produced wine using the rosé technique in Provence. 

Spritzes

If you’re not a rosé fan, why not try a spritz as the temperature rises? Spritz refers to any drink that is a combination of wine (usually sparkling wine), soda water and an apéritif drink. They’re served long with lots of ice so make a refreshing and not too strong drinks option in the summer.   

The classic spritz is the Apérol spritz – made with Apérol, sparkling wine and soda water, usually garnished with a slice of orange. Although ubiquitous in France, Apérol is actually Italian (its name comes from aperitivo, the Italian word for pre-dinner drinks).

There are lots of other options though – Campari Spritz, with the bitter-but-delicious Italian Campari.

Lillet spritz – the French aromatised wine Lillet is often served as a spritz, garnished with mint or cucumber. 

Saint-Germain spritz – the elderflower liqueur Saint-Germain is often found served as a spritz in the summer, garnished with fruit.  

Beer

French beer culture is rapidly changing and there are now more and more options available if you want to drink beer in France.

The traditional demi (half litre) of French of Belgian beers are still widely available, but craft beers are also really taking off, especially in northern France.

A combination of imports from the UK and US, plus an ever-increasing number of small craft breweries in France mean there are lots of craft ales on offer now, from IPA to stout. It’s also getting more common to serve beer as une pinte (a pint).

READ ALSO How France became a nation of beer lovers

Non-alcoholic beers are also increasingly common in France and most of the big-name brands such as Kronenbourg, Grimbergen and Pelforth now have a zero-alcohol option. Ask for une bière sans alcool, or if you want want a summer shandy (beer mixed with lemonade) ask for a panaché.

Citron pressé

If you’re looking for something non-alcoholic, the classic pressé is a good option.

The most common option is a citron (lemon) pressé, but many cafés have other fruit options. Keep in mind this isn’t exactly a lemonade – if you’re looking for this you can ask for a citronade

The classic pressé is served as a neat squeezed juice, served with a jug of water and (in the case of the lemon) a couple of sachets of sugar, so that you can mix the juice to your own taste.

But aware that soft drinks are not necessarily cheaper than alcoholic ones in France, and a citron pressé will often be more expensive than buying a beer or a glass of wine.

Water

Of course staying hydrated is vital as the temperature rises, and there’s no better option for your health than water.

In cafés and restaurants if you simply ask for ‘water’ you’re likely to be brought mineral water and this can be more expensive than beer or wine, especially in tourist areas.

If you just want tap water ask for une carafe d’eau or un pichet d’eau, which is free.

Tap water in France is entirely safe to drink and the city of Paris is currently running a campaign called Je choisi l’eau de Paris (I choose Paris tap water) to encourage people to cut down on plastic waste by ditching bottled water and drinking tap water instead.

If you see a Je choisi l’eau de Paris sticker in the window of any business, it means you can go in and get your water bottle filled up for free.

READ ALSO Six things to know about tap water in France

Most French cities also have a network of drinking fountains where you can stay hydrated for free during the summer months. 

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