France in panic over killer soft cheese

A SERIES of well-publicised - possibly over-publicised - cases of listeria in cheese has sent shock waves through the French dairy industry.

Traditional producers see a plot in Paris or Brussels, even in America, to destroy one of the great creations of French culture: the soft, runny cheese, made with raw, unpasteurised milk. Domestic sales of two varieties of cheese - epoisses and saint-felicien - have fallen by nearly 70 per cent. Unless sales pick up, even larger firms will be driven out of business.

The scare began when two people died, and a third lapsed into a coma, in January after eating a bad batch of "epoisses" made by a rogue company, which did not have the right to use the name. Since then the health ministry has ordered the withdrawal of several batches of cheese in which minuscule traces of listeria were detected. Cheeses affected include varieties of camembert, chaource, savoyard and maroilles.

All are made from raw, whole milk. In theory such cheeses are made from unpasteurised milk. In fact, many producers use methods that do involve a certain amount of heat treatment. Traditional manufacturers insist it is these cheeses - not the genuinely raw milk cheeses - that are causing the problems. Overall, cases of listeria in French cheese have, in fact, fallen in recent years.

Some producers blame the health ministry for demanding the withdrawal of cheeses from the market on the slightest indication of infection. Others say that a 1994 French law, based on an over-rigorous EU directive, victimises soft and runny cheeses, because it allows zero-tolerance of listeria.

There is also suspicion that the new health drive is a response to long-standing US demands for the creation of world trading standards for cheese, which would, in effect, make pasteurisation compulsory.

Alain Dubois, a Parisian cheese trader, said: "Listeria is everywhere, in water, in the air, in the soil. If you did the same kind of minute analysis of german sausages or Norwegian salmon, the results would be very amusing ... The French dairy industry is the safest in the world. There is no cause to threaten small producers in this way or to despise people who still want to eat real food."

Cheese wholesaler, Laurent Dubois, said there was a great unfairness in the consumer reaction. Sales of raw-milk, unpasteurised cheese had been worst affected. In fact, all the cheeses that had been incriminated had been made from milk which was part-pasteurised or heat treated. "These techniques neutralise the bacteria in the raw milk. But some of these are antibodies, which defend the cheese naturally against dangerous bacteria. If listeria gets into these cheeses accidentally, it can develop unchecked."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect