'Don't annoy camembert cheese-makers', French minister warns EU

AFP - [email protected]
'Don't annoy camembert cheese-makers', French minister warns EU
Camembert cheese in its traditional wooden box. Photo: AFP

Could the distinctive thin wood packaging around France's famed camembert cheese be under threat from the EU's recycling drive? That's the fear makers of the soft cow-milk comestible from Normandy face - and French EU lawmakers have hastily stepped up to address.


On Wednesday, MEPs in the European Parliament, at the behest of its French members, introduced amendments to protect camembert's traditional round wooden containers from the scope of an EU bill.

That legislative text, presented by the European Commission last year, aims to reduce waste notably by setting recycling targets for all packaging from 2030.

The packaging industry has lobbied fiercely to water down the legislation.

"The wooden boxes used to package cheeses like camembert don't have a dedicated recycling circuit because it would be too costly to create a logistic chain," said Stephanie Yon-Courtin, an MEP originally from Normandy.


She is part of the centrist Renew Europe group in parliament, which encompasses lawmakers from French President Emmanuel Macron's Renaissance party.

Their amendment seeks to spare wooden packaging from the recycling law.

That would apply not only to the traditional camembert cylinder, but also to France's Mont d'Or cheese as well as the wooden baskets in which oysters and berries are sold in French open-air markets.

The amendment also wants to keep wax packaging out of the recycling law, which would apply to Mini Babybel cheeses made by French company Groupe Bel and popular as a snack.

The Renew lawmakers want the commission to first come up with a report on available facilities to recycle these types of packaging, as well as an impact study on what recycling them would do for the environment.

"Before demanding wooden box recycling, there is much to do on plastic packaging," argued another Renew MEP, Jeremy Decerle, who used to lead a union for young French farmers.

France's European Affairs Minister Laurence Boone has lent her voice to the debate, telling a number of journalists on Tuesday the measure could inflame the rural electorate ahead of EU elections in June next year.

"If you want to caricature Europe before the election, you start by annoying camembert producers and their wooden packaging... that makes everybody sit up," she said.

Recycling was a necessity, she noted, and companies needed to be prodded to up their use of recyclable packaging material.

But "there needs to be some pragmatic realism and not annoying camembert makers," she said.

Camembert-makers are a fiesty bunch and have fought a 12-year legal battle over the labelling of their product.


Other amendments on the recycling law have also been lodged by French MEPs from other political groupings on the centre-right and far-right - who often defend farmers' interests - to exclude wooden packaging.

But a German lawmaker, Delara Burkhardt, from the leftist Socialists and Democrats grouping, gave less heed to the arguments springing up around the emblematic French cheese.

"The requirement for camembert wooden packaging to be recyclable must remain," she told AFP.


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