French encouraged to eat more cheese as act of patriotism to help with surplus amid coronavirus lockdown

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French citizens are being asked to fulfill their patriotic duty and eat more cheese to help the dairy industry amid a massive surplus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sales of certain cheeses have dropped as much as 60 percent since cheese makers can no longer sell to restaurants, and open-air markets were forced to close, said France Terre de Lait, the French dairy industry, in a statement.

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The industry said it’s calling on citizens “to eat cheese in solidarity with our producers of Saint-Nectaire, Reblochon, Cantal, Camembert.” The campaign is dubbed “Fromagissons” – or, "Let's act for cheese."

“The situation is critical and requires a rapid increase in consumption,” Damien Lacombe, president of the dairy collective Sodiaal told French agriculture magazine Agri Culture of the cheese predicament.

During the nationwide lockdown, consumers shunned “pleasure” foods like traditional cheeses and instead stocked up on more essential dairy products like milk, butter and cream.

Customers, wearing protective facemasks, queue at the cheese counter in order to be served behind a transparent plastic curtain at a covered market in Le Perreux-sur-Marne on April 19. (BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images)

Customers, wearing protective facemasks, queue at the cheese counter in order to be served behind a transparent plastic curtain at a covered market in Le Perreux-sur-Marne on April 19. (BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images)

There was a massive cheese surplus in April, according to Michel Lacoste, president of CNAOL, the national council of dairy appellations.

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Of the 2,000 tons of cheese that should have been sold during the month, 1,500 remained unsold, Lacoste told the magazine. If not distributed by May 11, the cheese will expire, he said.

The patriotic call echoes one in Belgium, where citizens were asked last week to eat more French fries to help reduce a massive potato surplus caused by the pandemic.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced a nationwide plan last week to gradually bring the country out of a six-week lockdown starting May 11 to stem the risk of economic collapse.

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The coronavirus has sickened 169,583 people in France, killing 25,204.