France’s agriculture minister, Marc Fesneau, has encouraged farmers to produce more cheap meat through intensive farming at a large agribusiness event, the Guardian reports.
With inflation pushing up food prices, French consumers have been choosing cheap meat over organic products. “Animal welfare issues only work if we find someone to pay” for it, Fesneau is quoted as saying.
Since coming to power in 2017, French president Emmanuel Macron has tried to push the country’s meat industry away from intensive farming. Fesneau’s comments appear to signal a change of direction, which has pleased the large meat, dairy, and egg producers.
“Our goal is the reconquest of standard production,” Gilles Huttepain, an executive at poultry producer LDC, told the Guardian. He said that France “must build 400 new standard [intensive] chicken houses a year to take back the market from imports,” which make up half of the chicken consumed in France.
Backtracking on minimal progress
France had begun to make improvements to its animal welfare standards, which may be threatened by the government’s apparent new policy direction.
A ban on eggs from battery caged hens was supposed to come into force in 2022, but it only applied to the sale of whole eggs in supermarkets, not those used in processed food. In 2018, 68 percent of France’s egg-laying hens were still forced to spend their lives in cages. It’s now thought that one in four eggs come from caged systems. According to the Guardian, some egg farmers who switched to cage-free systems are regretting it due to increased demand for cheaper caged eggs.
A voluntary animal welfare labeling scheme for eggs was also rolled out in some French supermarkets in 2018.
That same year, Macron urged the European Union to reform its subsidy system, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which has long rewarded the largest landowners without considering how their farming practices hurt the environment.
France has also recently made a second attempt to hobble its growing plant-based industry. Two weeks ago, the government issued a new decree banning the use of “meat” terms like steak and sausage on plant-based products.
Going against the grain
Fesneau’s remarks go against the European Union’s Farm to Fork strategy, which aims to make agriculture less intensive and expand organic farming. It also moves in the opposite direction to the Netherlands, which has been trying to negotiate a strategy with farmers for reducing livestock numbers to tackle nitrogen pollution from manure. Though those negotiations collapsed in June.
Like the Netherlands, France suffers from nitrogen pollution that is causing toxic algal blooms, particularly in Brittany where there is a concentration of intensive pig, poultry, and dairy farms.
France is the largest beef producer in Europe and, along with Germany, is its largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Agricultural economist Carine Barbier, a researcher for the French National Centre for Scientific Research, has said that “it’s absolutely necessary to start reducing herd sizes” in France to tackle its emissions.
Though meat consumption remains high in France, a 2021 survey found that nearly half of people had cut the amount they ate over the previous three years.