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France faces Christmas cheese shortage

Unseasonably grim weather over the summer has limited cheese production in France with a potentially disastrous effect for end-of-year festivities.

Saint-Nectaire cheese production has been hampered by bad weather over the summer. French farmers warn of shortages over the festive period.
Saint-Nectaire cheese production has been hampered by bad weather over the summer. French farmers warn of shortages over the festive period. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

Heavy rains over the summer have lead to a particularly poor hay harvest, meaning that cows – who usually get extra nutrition from hay – have produced less milk than usual.

“So far, in terms of collected volume [of milk], we have seen a decrease of 15 to 20 percent,” said Arnauld Dischamp, vice president of Dischamp cheese makers. 

Dischamp is concerned over getting enough milk to make the cheese usually ordered in bulk for Christmas and New Year celebrations.

“All winter, we risk having a lack of volume and availability,” he warned in an interview on BFMTV, saying that there could be “tensions on the availability” of cheese stocks due to high demand at end of year parties. 

READ ALSO French summer was officially the coldest and dampest since 2014

Dischamps produces cheeses such as Saint-Nectaire, Cantal and Bleu d’Auvergne. Because these cheeses have protected geographical status, he is not able to make them from milk that comes from other, sunnier regions of France. 

Following laws of supply and demand, it is likely that the price of cheeses will increase over the Christmas period. 

This is not the first time France has faced a cheese shortage. Last year, there were fears over a raclette shortfall after demand soared during lockdown (a 20-25 percent increase over the course of the year). 

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Ironically, the worldwide consumption of dairy products has helped lead to this crisis in the first place.

Cows produce a huge amount of methane, which is at least 84 times more powerful in terms of the greenhouse effect than CO2. At least 27 percent of methane emissions come from animal agriculture, with cows the most significant contributors. 

Earlier this summer, French climatologist Françoise Vimeux explained to The Local that while it is difficult to attribute a singular weather event to climate change, periods of unseasonably intense rain are more likely. 

“We know that heating up the atmosphere and the oceans exacerbates incidents of intense rain,” she said. “We know that when the atmosphere warms by one degree, it can hold 7 percent more water vapour. So when a weather event comes and cools down this air mass, there’s a lot more water which can fall.”

Bad weather over the summer has also threatened the annual lentil harvest, which was half the normal level in the Haute-Loire region this summer. In Alsace, honey production has fallen by 80 percent. Green bean, pea, carrot, cauliflower and brocoli harvests have also suffered. 

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CLIMATE CRISIS

‘Over 40C’: What will summers in Paris be like in future?

In June 2022, France sweltered under an unusually early heatwave - but experts have warned that these conditions, regarded today as extreme, will become the norm sooner rather than later.

'Over 40C': What will summers in Paris be like in future?

Regional climate experts warn the Paris region is on track to see average temperatures rise by 3C in a century “if greenhouse gas emissions of human activities are not stopped.”

And the Groupe régional d’expertise sur le changement climatique (Grec) in the Paris region of Île-de-France is now saying that average temperatures in the region will continue to rise at an accelerating rate. 

In the past 72 years, Île-de-France has seen its average temperature increase by 2C. By 2050, just 28 years from now, that figure could increase by an additional 1C – meaning average temperatures in the greater Paris region could increase by 3C in a century. 

That roughly means that the number of “heatwave” days recorded in the Paris region – when temperatures are above normal for that time of year – will rise from 7 annually to between 28 to 30 days each year by 2070.

Part of the problem is something known as the urban heat sink effect – in which large towns and cities stay warmer at night because buildings and even roads release heat at night, when it is cooler.

As a result, night-time temperatures in towns and cities remain higher than in more rural areas. And every morning starts a little hotter than previous day, making cities more and more stifling. Night-time temperature in Paris can be up to 10C higher than in rural areas of – a difference recorded during the deadly 2003 heatwave.

The study also warned that the area would be subject to devastating widespread flooding.

Nationally, temperature records tumbled last month. In Biarritz, on the southwest coast of France, the highest temperature ever – 42.9C – was recorded on June 18th. On the same day, Tarbes, in the Hautes-Pyrénées, and Rochefort Saint-Aignan, Charente-Maritime, also recorded their highest-ever temperatures since records began, while more than 150 towns and cities set new temperature records for the month of June.

During the same heatwave, 35C was recorded at the Orly-Athis-Mons weather station – which the Grec group uses for its observations in Île-de-France.

Grec climatologists said that high temperatures will become increasingly common in the region. Board members Robert Vautard and Nathalie de Noblet said in a statement that the same station has recorded similar temperatures in June just twice previously in 75 years – in 1947 and 2017.

They said the trend is for such temperatures to be reached more often in the years to come: “It is to be expected that this type of event will become more and more usual if the greenhouse gas emissions of human activities are not stopped,” they said, adding that – without climate change – high temperature records in the region would be about 2C lower.

The Grec report mirrors national and international studies. Shortly after the country’s last heatwave ended the director of France’s Centre National de Recherches Météorologiques said: “This heatwave is exceptional in terms of its precocity. This type of event in mid-June is extremely rare.”

But, while they are exceptional today, scientists predict they will be the standard within just a few years.  “Today, scientific knowledge on heatwaves is very clear. Any heatwave event is made more intense and severe by climate change … by the increase in temperature in the atmosphere resulting from greenhouse gas emissions.”

Only three years ago the highest temperature in France – 46C – was recorded in Verargues, Hérault, on June 28, 2019. The top 12 temperatures on record in France were set that day alone. 

Records show that, of the 43 heatwaves France has endured between 1947 and 2020, nine occurred before 1989. 

And a second heatwave this summer is already here. Forecasters are predicting temperatures could reach 40C in southeast France by Wednesday, July 6th, after temperatures got close to the mark on Sunday.

For a heat wave alert to be officially triggered, certain temperatures must be reached both during the day and at night for three days in a row. The trigger thresholds vary according to the area – the south of the country needs to be warmer than the north.

With global warming continuing, heatwaves will become increasingly frequent, according to climatologist Françoise Vimeux: “During the second half of the 19th century a heat wave occurred once every 50 years. Now it happens every 10 years – it will get worse. 

“We are heading towards warming levels of 1.5 degrees, and so the probability [of a heatwave] will be once every five years.”

Météo France’s climate predictions indicate that, by 2050, the deadly heatwave of 2003 would be considered part of “a normal summer, even slightly cool”. 

That was the summer in which 15,000 excess deaths were recorded in France, including 5,000 in Paris, and attributed to the heat. It prompted the government of the day to set up the emergency response programme that can be implemented today.

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