EU farce as iconic cheese boxes under threat over Ursula von der Leyen rules

In a twist that has left France up in arms, the European Commission is facing backlash over concerns that new green packaging regulations could jeopardise the iconic wooden boxes encasing the country’s renowned Camembert cheese.

The proposed changes under a new EU recycling law have triggered anxiety in France, where cheeses are considered an integral part of the national identity.

Le Figaro raised alarms, cautioning that the EU’s recycling regulations aimed at replacing hard-to-recycle wooden packaging with recyclable materials, such as plastic, by 2030, could imperil France’s “gastronomic treasures”.

Guillaume Poitrinal, a prominent figure in the French business community and head of a wood packaging company, defended the wooden boxes, emphasising their environmental benefits compared to plastic alternatives.

“The wooden box – low carbon, light, biodegradable, made in France – is better for the planet than plastic from Saudi oil, transformed in China with coal-fired electricity, and which will end up in the ocean,” Poitrinal claimed.

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Sabine Roux de Bézieux, president of the Sea Foundation, an NGO, echoed these sentiments, deeming the potential shift “abhorrent”.

Local concerns extend beyond environmental considerations. Daniel Bourgeois, a cheese seller from Normandy, highlighted the practical impact of using plastic on the cheese itself, saying: “It would heat the cheese up. In the long term, it would change the nature of the product.”

Faced with mounting pressure, MEPs in the European Parliament introduced amendments to safeguard Camembert’s distinctive wooden containers from the scope of the EU Bill, stressing the need to protect cultural and traditional practices.

In response to the media storm, the European Commission sought to allay fears, asserting that there was no intention to ban wooden boxes. A spokesperson clarified “there is nothing in our proposal that would prevent the use of wooden packaging,” but acknowledged the need for improvements in recycling and reusing these containers.

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Camembert producers argue that proposed changes could render the use of wooden boxes prohibitively expensive, de facto leading to their exclusion. Stephanie Yon-Courtin, an MEP from Normandy, stressed the lack of a dedicated recycling circuit for wooden boxes due to logistical challenges and cost constraints.

As the debate unfolds, the proposed amendments also extend to other traditional items, such as France’s Mont d’Or cheese and wooden baskets used in markets for selling oysters and berries. French European Affairs Minister Laurence Boone threw her support behind the plea, warning of potential repercussions among rural voters in the upcoming EU elections.

While acknowledging the necessity of recycling, Boone emphasised the importance of pragmatic realism, urging a balanced approach that does not antagonise key sectors like Camembert production. The debate pits environmental concerns against cultural and economic considerations, with no consensus in sight.

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