French government plan to fine meat firms criticised

By Liz Newmark, in Brussels

- Last updated on GMT

Stéphane Le Foll plans is to "fight corruption and modernise business practices"
Stéphane Le Foll plans is to "fight corruption and modernise business practices"

Related tags Meat industry Beef Lamb Pork Poultry

French agriculture minister Stéphane Le Foll’s plan to boost transparency in the meat industry will not halt the decline in France’s agro-food sector, according to meat organisation Culture Viande. 

The proposal, unveiled by the French Ministry of Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry officials on 30 March included the threat of a fine of up to 2% of a company’s daily turnover for non-compliance. In a statement, the Ministry said: “This will favour transparency, fight corruption and modernise business practices, ultimately improving the financial situation of livestock farmers.​”

Culture Viande disagreed: “As we tweeted earlier this month, the call to publish the figures is ‘the wrong discussion’, as companies’ operating profits are made public and used to calculate how much tax they should pay,​” spokesperson François Cassignol told GlobalMeatNews.

For Cassignol, the real issue was the decline in meat consumption, along with competition from lower-priced meat exported by Spain and, in particular, Germany. “Consumers eat less and less meat,​” Cassignol said. “French people no longer sit at a table three times a day; they eat takeaways, very light dinners and prefer single-course meals like pizza. France is the second biggest pizza consumer in Europe.​”

Boost transparency

The industry is doing its best to counteract this trend, Cassignol continued. The (meat – one idea a day) website shows consumers how to cook or serve meat and on 21-25 May, there will be a second industry-led ‘Made in Viande’ event – where French consumers can choose from 2,000 different visits to see how the meat industry works in practice. “These are better ways of increasing transparency,​” Cassignol argued.

More significantly, Germany’s practice of paying its meat industry workers €3 or €4 per hour while France pays €10 to €15, had “dramatic consequences​” on market prices in France, he said. “In 2011, Le Foll launched an infringement procedure with the European Commission against this social dumping [using cheaper labour or causing firms to move to lower-wage countries, in this case Germany]​.

Due to France’s intervention, Germany must implement a minimum wage, but this will only enter into effect in 2017; it’s a huge problem,​” Cassignol continued. “We’re also calling for obligatory country-of-origin labelling, so consumers can see they are buying French produce.​”

Transparent financial reports

EU farm body Copa-Cogeca, meanwhile, welcomed the French initiative. “We favour a fair, functional and transparent food chain,​” said spokesperson Amanda Cheesley. “All initiatives that contribute to achieve this can, in principle, be supported. Publishing annual financial results is in any case a fiscal and therefore a legal obligation too. Copa-Cogeca does not believe voluntary measures alone would work​.”

In its 30 March statement, the Ministry said the proposed bill, to be debated by the French national assembly in the coming weeks, would lead to “calmer commercial relations between the different parties in the sector​”.

Fines already exist for non-publication of company accounts, but Le Foll has told French newspapers they were not severe enough to push big companies and small farms – indeed food businesses would rather pay the fines than comply with the law.

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