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The French Butter Crisis Is Spreading
Can it really be true that the French are running out of butter? (CCSS Level: Grade 7, Words: 460)
Oct 30, 2017 Style & Living
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On Wednesday evening, on her way home from work, Parisian Greta Morton popped into Carrefour, the ubiquitous French supermarket. "I saw empty shelves in the cold section, " Morton reports. "There really was no butter, except for a butter you find in plastic containers that no-one ever buys."

This sight is found across France. A combination of low dairy production, and panic buying once the news got out, has left supermarket shelves empty of butter across the county. And if you think that doesn't amount to a national crisis, then I've got one word for you: croissants. French pastry requires a lot of butter to make.

The French are worried. According to Le Figaro newspaper, it's the worst butter shortage since the end of the World War II.

The world market for butter has gone into overdrive. "It's the Chinese, they're buying all the butter," one Carrefour checkout guy commented. The Chinese in particular have discovered a taste for Western-style pastries, which require butter as an essential ingredient. However, Chinese demand is part of the cause, but it is not the whole story.

At the same time, European and American consumers are moving back to butter. After years in which we were told animal fat was bad, today the advice is changing. Now, the demon is sugar, butter has had its reputation restored, and we can spread with pride.

Just as demand for butter is rising on the world market, supply is falling. According to the EU's Milk Market Observatory, New Zealand, the world's largest dairy producer, exported 11% less butter between January and August than it did the year before.

According to European Commission statistics, the price of wholesale butter shot up from a low of €250 (NZ$428) per 100kg in January 2016 to €650 (NZ$1113) in August this year. Butter prices for consumers doubled.

Yes, buttery pastries are increasingly popular in Asia and the Middle East, so China's butter imports from the EU rose by 19 percent this year compared to 2016, though the EU's total butter exports in 2017 actually fell by a fifth. It wasn't just butter. Chinese demand for EU cheese rose by 23 percent, demand for skimmed milk powder by 29 percent, and whole milk powder by 11 percent.

Bakers in France are worried. The Christmas cake season is close, and they all need butter. If supply doesn't return quickly enough, they're going to have to pass the cost of lost sales and increased prices on to customers.

France's agriculture minister told parliament last Tuesday that retailers and suppliers should agree on price adjustments in order to maintain deliveries, Reuters reported. There is one thing everyone agrees on. No matter how bad things get, they're not going to substitute butter with margarine in croissants.

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