France's truffle producers sniff out EU subsidy

John Lichfield
Sunday 07 January 2007 01:00

Producers of one of the most expensive foods on earth, the truffle, are campaigning for a European Union subsidy.

French truffles are fetching up to €800 a killogram - or £260 a pound - this winter in village markets in the south of France. Producers have asked the European Commission to give them a subsidy to plant more "truffle trees" - the varieties of oak that promote the growth of the much-prized underground fungi, which are sniffed out by dogs and pigs.

Brussels has turned up its nose at the request, which it says does not "fit" its attempts to cut back on agricultural spending. The French federation of truffle producers says it will continue its campaign in the European Parliament.

The problem, it says, is not truffle prices, which are booming, but the quantities of truffles found in Europe - mostly France and Italy - which are plummeting. Dry, hot summers, the advance of the suburbs and the use of agricultural chemicals are all blamed for the growing scarcity of the Tuber melanosporum, or "black" Périgord truffle.

In the late 19th century, France harvested 1,600 tons a year. Only about 20 tons are expected to come to market in the south of France this winter. If nothing is done, the truffle producers say, the European market will be overwhelmed by an influx of cheaper, and less powerfully tasting, Chinese truffles.

About 10,000 people in France are engaged in the truffle industry, mostly in the south-east. But only a few dozen make their living entirely from truffles.

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