France’s competition and consumer affairs body has revealed “anomalies” in the composition and labelling of butter sold in the country.
The DGCCRF is concerned the product is being watered down or otherwise altered, creating an inferior product.
It has warned that “non-conformities or fraudulent practices can be numerous”.
The DGCCRF’s disclosures are on the back of a survey, carried out in 2019, which revealed an anomaly rate of 29.5% in the sector with abuses including an overly high water content, a salt deficit and butter mixtures being used without this being reflected in the product labelling.
It is concerned consumers are being given a raw deal and has hinted increased ingredient costs could be leading dairy firms to cut corners.
“Selling prices of butters have risen a lot for consumers and global demand is strong. At the same time, the amount of cream produced in France, an essential element in the manufacture of butter, is decreasing. All these elements can lead to the development of fraudulent practices, given the high financial stakes,” it said.
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“It was in this context that the DGCCRF decided to conduct a national survey in order to verify that the fairness of the information is respected by all operators in the butter and dairy fat sector. The checks concerned the manufacturing processes, composition and labelling of the butters to verify the claims made on the products.”
The 2019 survey was based on investigations into 129 establishments, mainly in dairy farming regions such as Brittany, Normandy and Pays-de-la-Loire.
The investigation covered the entire supply chain, from artisanal and industrial butter manufacturers to dairies and dairy cow farms and retail businesses.
Some 89 checks were carried out, 16 of which were found to be non-compliant.
The main anomalies identified concerned the manufacturing process, composition and labelling of dairy butters and fats – such as the use of milk fats other than cream that are not permitted for certain types of quality butter.
“Laboratory checks and analyses have made it possible to verify the information on the butters’ labelling, and in particular certain claims such as free-range butter, semi-salted butter, sweet butter, etc. Numerous anomalies have been revealed that may constitute deceptive marketing practices,” the DGCCRF said.
EU regulation sets a maximum of 16% of the water content that butter can contain. This value was exceeded for almost 15% of the samples collected for the DGCCRF survey.
The amount of salt in butter is not regulated but professionals have drawn up a code of practice for the terms ‘salted butter, and ‘semi-salted butter’. The investigation revealed that four samples of semi-salted butter had less salt than the amount needed to qualify for this denomination.
Verification claims were also found to be false in some instances. For example, one farmer claimed that some of his butters were farm-owned, even though only 26% of the cream used to make butter came from the farm.
Other anomalies the survey identified included dairies re-using improperly packaged or returned butters, melting them and reincorporating them into the manufacture of high-quality butters such as extra-fine butters, for which recycling is prohibited, and the use of whey fat instead of cream.
The DGCCRF stressed that on several farms, the investigators found a lack of knowledge of the regulations and a manufacturing process that was often poorly controlled.
“This survey was an opportunity to remind farmers of their regulatory obligations by focusing on education when there was no intention to fraud,” it said.
Consumer protection has become a big issue in France in recent months with the government pressing food and beverage manufacturers to bring prices down.
This month the French government revealed it is seeking EU approval to clamp down on so-called ‘shrinkflation’. It wants to force retailers to tell customers if the price of a smaller product has stayed the same.
French supermarket giant Carrefour is refusing to stock Lay’s and Doritos brand owner PepsiCo’s products at home and abroad because of what it sees as unacceptable price increases.