French warn of U.S. cheese threat
Agence France Presse English Wire, 6/25/97

DATELINE: Caen, France

The Anglo-Saxons are at it again. And this time they are targeting the heart of French gastronomic culture. Not content with flooding France -- and the rest of Europe for that matter -- with hamburgers and cola, the United States is now threatening that most sacred of French foods: Camembert cheese.

At least that's the warning from French makers of the soft cheese in reaction to US calls for obligatory pasteurisation of all cheeses, to ensure they are healthy. "Allowing only pasteurised cheeses would lead to an impoverishment of France's cheese heritage," said Francois Michel, president of the Normandy federation of Camembert makers.

The United States has called at a UN meeting on food policy of 150 countries in Geneva for all milk products to undergo pasteurisation or a similar process to ensure hygiene safety standards worldwide. If agreed, the measure -- which would also affect cheeses including Roquefort and some kinds of Gruyere -- would allow any country to ban imports of unpasteurised cheeses, with potentially devastating commercial impact.

Michel said that in the short term the measure would have a limited effect: France currently exports only about one to two percent of its Camembert production. But he said a principle was at stake: "The raw character of a cheese gives it its particular flavour." And he said: "The best weapon for cheesemakers who use untreated milk is to show critics the effectiveness of hygiene quality control from the producer to the distributor."

Washington has some allies in its cheese initiative, including New Zealand and Canada, although the 15-member European Union is divided over the issue.

©1997 by Agence France Presse. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


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