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Depreciation – the arbitration was supposed to have been issued ten days ago. As the war between Russia and Ukraine continues, the French agri-food industry is bearing the brunt of the shortages associated with the standoff. Sunflower oil, in particular, is about to run out for prepared dishes that contain it. The decision of the Directorate General for Competition, Consumption and Fraud Suppression (DGCCRF) is long overdue.
Together, Russia and Ukraine account for at least 78% of the world’s exports of precious liquids, which are used not only in the composition of homemade sauces and mayonnaise, but also in countless prepared dishes.
Sardines in oil, prepared salads, dishes in sauce, but also fried foods, frozen pizzas… There are bound to be some on this list of products that regularly end up in your cart. As a result of this deficiency, its composition is on the verge of change. Jerome Foucault, president of the Association of Manufacturers of Processed Food Products (ADEPALE), warns to HuffPost.
“For 90% of the products involved, it is about replacing sunflower oil with another vegetable oil,” continues the director. Rapeseed oil, for example, which in many cases can replace sunflower oil. But this change, however insignificant, must be communicated to the consumer, and here the situation becomes tense.
Inform consumers, but how?
French law mandates “fair and accurate” labeling, which informs “objectively the consumer”, and any change in the composition of a processed product must result in a modification of its packaging, particularly if new allergens are likely to be added to the product. But for manufacturers, deadlines are too short for us to be able to replace pizza boxes or plastic labels that decorate prepared salads at a moment’s notice.
Usually, packaging is ordered in huge quantities, all year round. In addition, you have to reserve your slot six months in advance” explained to figaroOlivier Andrault, Food Policy Officer at UFC-Que Choisir. This is why some associations, such as Foodwatch, recommend installing labels when leaving the factory, in order to reduce investment.
But for Jerome Foucault, this is again impossible. “Repairing the label manually is simply gigantic,” the manager sums up, “not only in terms of personnel, but in addition you have to find the labels themselves.” And this last point is not a detail: For months, employees of the Finnish giant UPM have been on strike, straining stocks of paper, cardboard and also posters across the European continent.
The status of GMOs has not yet been settled
The preferred route for manufacturers would then be to use inkjets to write a small “do not opt” (for “no opt”) sign on the respective packaging. Then, it is up to the end consumer to go to a website specifically set up to find out which ingredient the sunflower oil has been replaced with.
One solution that makes Foodwatch freaks out: “What is needed is consumer information at the time of purchase,” protested Camille Dorioz, the agronomist in charge of the file with the NGO. “Labels, labels on the shelves, yes,” but asking the consumer to make the effort to learn more about their purchase does not seem appropriate.
Because the issue goes beyond rapeseed oil. In a press release, the association explained that “if consumers do not wish to eat GMOs or palm oil, they should be able to obtain information at the time of purchase.”
At this point, ADEPALE wants to be restorative: “Anything related to the allergen should be listed directly on the packaging,” agrees Jerome Foucault, “just like products that contain GMOs.” inkjet inscription too? The Directorate-General for Climate Change is still refusing to give a date, but thousands of exemption requests have already been submitted in the provinces.
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