North East farmers visit Paris on fact-finding mission

Northumberland farmer Hans Pörksen describes his experiences of a very different system of agriculture

Julie's father, the well-known Cambo sheep farmer Hans Porksen
Julie's father, the well-known Cambo sheep farmer Hans Porksen

Twelve farmers from the North of England, accompanied by staff from EBLEX and the NFU, went to Paris last week on a RDPE Uplands fact-finding study tour regarding the production and marketing of beef and lamb.

On arrival, we were met by Remi Fourrier, who is the manager of the EBLEX’s office in France .

He took us to a butchers’ shop in the Rue Victor Hugo, one of the most exclusive areas of Paris.

Butcher Yves-Marie le Bourdonnec, who is a member of the Roast Beef club, has one of the most impressive traditional butchers’ shop imaginable.

He specialises in traditional breeds and well-hung mature meat. Some is imported from the UK via the Wilsons’ Ginger Pig Company in Yorkshire.

Prices reflected the quality and rump steak was €45 (around £35) per kg, Fillet €70 (£55), Limousine rib eye €75 (£59) and Wagyu - the Japanese beef - €240 (£188) per kg.

We got the impression that if you had to ask the price, you could not afford to shop here.

Top quality beef hind quarters and loins at Rungis market

We were shown some superb examples of Longhorn beef.

In the early evening we looked at prices in MonoPrix, an ordinary supermarket in a working-class district of Paris.

Here lamb chops were €24 (£19), rump steak €26 (£20), fillet €42 (£33) and mince meat €6.50 (£5).

The selection and quality of fruit and vegetables and cheeses was fantastic.

The following morning we were ready to take the bus at 4am to go to Rungis, the largest wholesale market in Europe. It is just outside Paris, covers hundreds of acres and over 12,000 people work there.

Fish, poultry, all sorts of meat, flowers and other perishable goods are on offer.

Big temperature-controlled halls provide the space for hundreds of firms, offering their products from all over Europe and further afield.

A fluent English-speaking guide made sure we all wore the correct protective clothing and we started our tour.

In the poultry halls, the only product we could identify as coming from the UK were the numerous large boxes of shot game, mainly grouse. The meat halls were full of top quality lamb carcasses, many from Scotland and other plants like Euro Lamb.

A flock of pedigree Ile de France ewes, lambing three times in two years
A flock of pedigree Ile de France ewes, lambing three times in two years

Beef was also in large quantity from all the major Irish-owned plants, from Ireland and from England and Wales. Labelling was very poor and weight and origin was not easily identified, but we were very impressed with the standard of all the meat products on offer.

Most of the meat was packed in boxes, rather than consisting of entire carcasses.

Lamb prices for whole carcasses were €7 (£5.50) to €9 (£4) per kg.

The traders we spoke to were surprised that more cow beef did not come from the UK.

After a superb breakfast at the mart - including red wine, which was a bit of a novelty for us from the UK - we went off to visit some supermarkets. Carrefour, Leclerc and Auchan are the major outlets.

On promotion were New Zealand leg of lamb at €17.90 (£14) per kg and EU cutlets at €18.80 (£15). 5% fat beef mince was €11.50 (£9) per kg.

A vacuum pack whole loin of fat-free lamb was €32.90 (£26) per kg.

This is a product under development in some markets in the UK. It looked very good.

Farm visits followed to a Blonde d’Aquitaine breeder and a sheep farmer with pedigree Ile de France sheep.

Remi Fourrier talks the UK delegation through Rungis market, the largest wholesale market in Europe
Remi Fourrier talks the UK delegation through Rungis market, the largest wholesale market in Europe

The messages from those visits were that prime cows were sold for €2400-€2800 at the end of their productive lives and lambs were marketed by the farmer to butchers and private sales in order to make any profit at all.

It was interesting that the EID tag was left on the carcass of the lambs - the ear with tag was in a plastic bag still attached to the carcass.

The last day we had a presentation on marketing by the EBLEX team in France.

They have very targeted events and promotion of the St George brand.

Over 100,000 tonnes of lamb are imported, with 41.8% coming from the UK.

France only supplies 37% of home consumption. Over 52% is sold by the supermarkets.

Lamb consumption per head is falling and is now only 3kg per head.

Seeing the way our UK lamb is promoted, we left France feeling confident that the EBLEX team are doing their very best in promoting our product.


David Whetstone
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