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Cheese Wars and Strong Coffee

Americans will soon pay more for a precious piece of French Roquefort. The American government has as a last, petty gesture in its trade policy decided to raise tariffs on the product from 100 to 300 percent. This is part of a more general round of retaliatory tariffs in response to the ban the European Union maintains on beef produced with growth hormones. But it is clear that Roquefort has been targeted for political sensitivity, as the Independent writes:
There was a violent reaction in France when import duties were first raised on roquefort cheese 10 years ago. The small farmers' leader José Bové – then a roquefort producer – began his rise to international celebrity by attacking a McDonald's restaurant at Millau, near Roquefort, with mallets and a bulldozer in August 1999.
The main effect this will have is making Roquefort more exclusive. And, perhaps, something of a political statement among Michael Pollan fans and the like. I do hope the French embassy will react appropriately at societal events. If the new administration does not dial this back...

An underappreciated feature of Roquefort is that it has psychoactive properties. When consuming the similarly produced Stilton cheese (which will by the way remain affordable because the 51st state is exempted from the retaliatory tariffs, as a bonus for arguing the US case) shortly before sleep, people report 'odd or vivid dreams'.

Blue cheeses, however, are not the only European exports that enhance the mental lives of well-to-do US citizens. A recent UK study has shown a significant correlation between the consumption of coffee and being prone to hallucination. Admittedly the study has been wildly overspun in the media, which the Guardian makes clear.

But this should not spoil the fun. German author Thomas Hildebrand runs away with it in a German language piece on the 'halluci-crisis'. Drinkable coffee, he writes, was introduced on the US street after Steve Schultz discovered you could buy it in lively Milan bars, and started selling it through Starbucks. This doesn't only taste much better, it's also a lot stronger. Bankers were loving it as they started constructing their first collateralised debt obligations. Incidentally, it seems to me that this also explains a good deal of Italian political culture. Worryingly, Hildebrand points out that coffee futures have remained remarkably stable in the current crisis...

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Marie Claude on :

who they think they are punishing ? the average American doesn't even know the sound of Roquefort. The upper classes that eat the kind of cheeze will carry on buying it, even it will become a more valuable produce alike "caviar", I bet that the new hostage of the White House will have it on his table, like a symbol of his cultural knoledge uh, I would have made that tax with EDAM, as it's a popular cheeze, it would have brought more nickels in the US government drawers. or an idea, make a deal with the Russians, "Roquefort for Gaz"

Joe Noory on :

They're punishing a fantasist, lefty, morally repugnant elite, as well as various miscellaneous "sooismoos" who think they're owed Roquefort and look down on Hawaiian cofee. Whoop dee do. Fine by me. All I have to say is "NoLogo!!!"

quo vadis on :

Actually, 30 years ago Roquefort was pretty much synonymous with "blue cheese" in the US and the salad dressing based on this cheese was very popular. These days the more generic term "blue cheese" is more common, probably as domestic producers started making similar cheeses in response to increased demand.

Don S on :

"the average American doesn't even know the sound of Roquefort" I can't speak for the 'average american', but Roquefort is among my favorite cheeses. Also Blue D'Auvergne, which is roquefort-peocess cheese made with cows milk. There is a good Spanish cheese which can substitute. In 2003 I swore off all French products for a year, and sometimes bought the spanish cheese, which is cheaper and which I remain fond of. In 2004 I returned to my roquefort but not French wine because I had learned to love the wine from Australia and Chile more than French wine. The French vinters dump the inferior wine on us foreigners and keep their good wine at home, while their competitors do not do that. So I don't buy French wine any more. It is a shame that the US feels he need to do thins. Perhaps the EU should reconsider the ban on US beef? This is the root cause of the increased tariff. Even so it hurts France far less than the beef ban in france hurts the US, so the Americans are being calm and restrained compared with the Europeans here....

Zyme on :

Well as far as I can see there are health concerns that led to banning American beef - nothing comparable has been brought forward regarding French cheese, has it?

Don S on :

Fatty cheese is bad for you also, Zyme. Clogs the arteries. There is solid proof of this unlike the vague and unproven 'fears' about hormone beef.

Don S on :

I didn't even mention the salt. Roquefort is also extremely salty cheese, and high salt intake is a bane for the heart. Yup. Think of it as a health measure. Next up - German sausage! Spanish ham! Let's see, what else? Foies gras is animal cruelty at the worst, whack it with a 500% tariff! Truffle-hunting is bad for the dogs and pigs which do it! 1000%!

Zyme on :

Your reply pretty much sums the nonsense up..

Don S on :

Yes is does. But Europe has been playing this 'nonsense game' with American farm exports for many years, and has been able paralyze the WTO with your particular form of curare (manufactured in Bruxlles). Has nobody noticed the timing of this? It's a last-minute thing just before the inauguration of a new President. This gives Obama some trade firepower without having to lift a finger - Bush did it for him. Bush has been a model of cooperation with Obama for the most part. I think it's obvious that Obama asked Bush to do this for him, and Bush saw no reason why not. Give up your trade bans, guys. It's against both the letter and the spirit of international law.

Zyme on :

I am no health expert. Thus I will rely on these when it comes to regulating food import/export. There is reason to expect that American regulation authorities can be more easily "convinced" by the GenFood industry than 27 national EU authorities, not to speak of Brussels itself. "Give up your trade bans, guys. It's against both the letter and the spirit of international law." Also I would be surprised to hear that - of all countries - in the US international law is valued more highly than health concerns. Do you really think negotiations are simplified by initiating ridiculous trade wars? Judging from the past I expect Brussels to react accordingly.

nanne on :

Roquefort is but one of many products that are included in this round of retaliatory tariffs, if I read the indy right. But it has been subjected to a far higher tariffs than other goods. The EU and the US have different regulatory philosophies with regard to food. The EU adheres (strongly, if sometimes inconsistently) to the principle of precaution, which in practical terms means that it needs to be proven that a certain production method for food can do no harm. The US tends to be more permissive. Thus the bans on chloride-bathed chicken, hormone beef and GM foods. I can understand that Americans feel these bans are unfair because the EU has not proven serious health concerns (rather, it requires elaborate proof that they do not exist). Deciding to file a WTO complaint and introducing a new round of retaliatory tariffs in the last days of the Bush administration does seem like petty spitefulness, though.

Don S on :

Ummm, nanne? Now where do you suppose Bush might have gotten the idea that 'petty spitefulness' was the best way to behave? Could it have been his critics, both in the US and Europe? Could be. Having read thousands of such critiques over the years it is a fact that petty spitefulness has been the rule in such things. Particularly during the last month. Bush has been a model of openminded tolerance - by comparison!

nanne on :

Critics in the press are one thing. Aside of the venerable [url=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/borisjohnson/4224626/George-W-Bush-was-not-alone-in-the-premier-league-of-bungling.html]Boris Johnson[/url], I don't see many prominent politicians kicking Bush on his way out.

Don S on :

Politicians, eurocrats, journalists, editorial writers - the spirit of spiteful joy was truly the spirit of the Christmas seasn past. As for Boris Johnson? Well Boris is a 'wanker' - just ask any youthful Londoner! An amusing wanker to be sure, at times. But that's all. Boris (I live in London so he is my mayor) did me a good this year. Energy prices fell by 70% - so Boris raised the bus fare 11% at the new year! Nice chap. For his next act he'll probably bin the congestion charge for cars and raise transit fares 30% to compensate..... Boris Johnson - One Term Wanker.

Zyme on :

"The EU and the US have different regulatory philosophies with regard to food." Not only food. I guess the different philosphies are preferring either "consumer health" or "business volume". The correct assignment of each is not too difficult to guess..

Don S on :

I refuse to take this kind of thing at all seriously. Europeans routinely argue both sides with absolutely straight faces. They argue that they can legally ban US goods with no proof whatever that the goods are harmful - but then turn around and complain when the US imposes a tariff on their goods! Roquefort will still be imported to the US, purchased, and eaten. But US beef is banned from the EU. None imported, purchased, and eaten. Bottom line. It is done for spiteful political reasons, to stick the boot in. I've seen the EU deliberately use trade policy to 'punish' certain regions in the US for the crime of being 'swing-states'. The idea was to hurt Bush politically in those states so they would vote Democratic in 2004. And it backfired on the EU, actually increasing Bush's poll numbers in those regions. 'None dare call it blackmail' - but blackmail it was.

Zyme on :

"It is done for spiteful political reasons, to stick the boot in. I've seen the EU deliberately use trade policy to 'punish' certain regions in the US for the crime of being 'swing-states'." I am reading this for the first time. Do you have any article describing this phenomenon in detail?

nanne on :

Your memory is at fault. The EU [i]threatened[/i] to instate a round of retaliatory tariffs designed for maximum political sensitivity in response to the steel tariffs Bush had hiked in his first administration to help out the steel industry in a few US states he needed to win. The US then relented on the steel tariffs. So, this did not backfire on the EU, rather, it worked.

Don S on :

It may have done both, nanne. But I think the people in these areas took it personally. Question: when you undertake to treate your friends as enemies, how long before they start to regard YOU as the enemy?

Marie Claude on :

the funny thing with the US, when it comes to think about EU, France always comes ahead, is it still the stigmates of the never ending bitterness of the Anglo-Saxons that is caaried on ? I would thin, yes, just have a look at their medias, be them conservative and or liberal the sources link into their nursery feeding bottles

Joe Noory on :

The EU's "different regulatory philosophy" is about obstructing imports, as it is to a lesser degree to North America. You've got to remember that this has also extended to GMOs. Once it became evident that European agrabiz were in a position to export GMO seed stock, the opposition to them was no longer encouraged. Those interested can see [url=http://www.france24.com/en/]Erik Svane on France 24[/url] in the 16-1700 hour Paris time.

Marie Claude on :

Don, I can tell for Spain, as I often go there, that spanish cheeze isn't so tasty,and that there are not so many varieties. as far as french wine is concerned, if nyou don't find the sames in UK, Canada, US, its may-be cuz of your alchool offices that import them, they add chemicals in (and or sugar, wich isn't forbidden by your own standards), so that they fit the anglo-saxon tastes we don't need your hrmoned beef, we have enough over here, and we don't want to get fat :lol:

Don S on :

Marie-Claude, I have heard of relatively few good Spanish cheeses, but there is an excellent blue with a taste like Roquefort which I can get in London. It's not quite as good as the best Roquefort but considerably cheaper.

Don S on :

Marie, the wine problem is because France doesn't really have brands. The brands are the areas, and in London we tend to get the scrapings of each area, sold at a high price. One almost always gets better wine at a particular price by going for wine created everywhere else but France. I used to drink a lot of French wine, and still favor a good steely Alsatian Reisling, for example. But that is not overpriced and rarely disappoints. If I want a deep red I've found I'm usually better off with a Aussie Shiraz than a Rhone red. It's not anti-french predjudice now, it's that I feel I've been the unwilling victim of too much Gallic sharp practice over the years - they sell a £5 bottle for £10. So no more. As for the US beef - you always have the option of buying other beef, Marie. Or you would have that option if the French government allowed you to. As it is US markets are open to the EU farmer but EU markets have been closed to US farmers. It's a cheat, it's unfriendly and petty, and it makes the EU unpopular in the US!

Zyme on :

Do you have any idea what would happen should the EU lift this import restriction? In EU member states this kind of beef production is forbidden - and the population is convinced this kind of food damages our health long term! The public reaction would be horrible - imagine a huge market full of radiated food would be allowed to export into the US and the distributors assure the public that the radiation levels are "very low". They also produce a number of studies "proving" that the radiation is "below dangerous levels". How would the people react?

Don S on :

Yes, Zyme, I actually do. I was here in 1999, and I remember the frenzy which was deliberately whipped up by the European news media, politicians, and even officials of the EU against 'frankenfoods'. The US was then ans is now accused of attempting to poison Europeans with GM and hormones. It is the biggests, nastiest, and most brazen lie of our lifetimes, and it causes the entire EU to blatantly violate international trade law. And there is no proven scientific basis for the charge, but still Americans are reviled as 'poisoners' throughout the EU. Every time you want to accuse the US of violating international law, remember that European grwon food is sold in the US, but almost no US food can be sold in the EU. If you want to see brazen manipulators and bare-faced liars, your leaders should look in the mirror. And if you wish to see dupes, look in the mirror yourselves...

Zyme on :

It might play a minor role that European food production (already over-sized for sustaining Europe) can be protected this way. Yet this is not comparable to the public relations desaster the EU would have to face when lifting the ban. Like every government, the Commission is in need of good propaganda :)

Pamela on :

This BS about radiation makes my teeth itch. Irradiated food does not give off radiation. When the organic regulations were finally passed here in the U.S., my husband and I went out to dinner with an organic trade group to celebrate. The regs prohibit irradiation of any foodstuff carrying the organic label. I asked a table mate why they wanted that prohibition - after all, radiation pretty much the risk of E. coli down to zero. She sort of sputtered and said "Well, because, you know, it's RADIATION". I said "So is sunlight." My husband quickly changed seats with me because he could see I was going in for the kill and it's not a good idea to have your spouse start insulting a client. There is a reason not to irradiate food, but it's aesthetic - it can change the texture. But the reason it's not done i actuality is because people are ignorant, if not outright stupid.

John in Michigan, USA on :

Amen!

Marie Claude on :

well the "côtes-du-Rhône" wines were overadvertised, now they are sold in a world wide scale, and the land can't product enough, so this is the merchands cheatings". Also if you directy to the productors, they have really cood wines and not expensive, the problem still rely on the intermediaries as far as beef is concerned, we all ought to eat less meat, that would solve on of the "global warming" problem ===> less farts !!!!

Joe Noory on :

Unlike Don, I will speak for the average American. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't know Roquefort. I hate to pucture a hole in your fantasies, but in case you're wondering, we actually do walk on our hind legs and wear shoes. All of this silliness is founded in a rather sick old sport of judging people by how good they are at being French, knowing that they aren't. Therin lies the cultural ignorance and vulgarity: trying to find pride in comparing the stereotypes of high culture in one's culture with the stereotypes of low culture in any other.

Marie Claude on :

LMAO, what kind of disturbing fly is upon your shadowed mind today ???

Don S on :

On further reflection I might agree that the recent round of tariff increases are 'petty' - or rather say - piecemeal. Let's face facts - the EU has been waging open unrestricted trade war upon the US agricultural industry for almost a decade - and the US has made no effective response, so the trade war continues. This trade war has not been at all subtle. Between the bans on GM produce and meats, hormone raised meat, and potentially 'contaminated' non-GM produce, there is probably at least 95% exclusion of US agricultural products from EU markets. This has been going on so long that people living in the EU take it for granted. But people in the US do not - from our perspective it looks like a complete EU failure to negociate in good faith. And indeed that is precisely what it is. Europeans have a great nerve accusing anyone in the US of being 'scofflaws' because 'scofflaw' is a way of life in Europe!

Joe Noory on :

Nanne - There's one thing the writer looking for condescention goofed here: getting caught in the headlights of Starbucks, when it wasn't the first to remind Europeans of Europhilia in America, merely the biggest and the winner in what was a market competition from the late 80s. The taste for the things you discuss isn't that narrow, and had the trend had roughly the same trajectory throughout the developed world. It wasn't much longer that ten years ago in Germany, espresso was limited to immigrant places, and Milchkaffee was plain Milch and plain Kaffee, Parisians were just about to go through crazes for vegetables made popular to north America (a wide variety of leafy greens were seen as exotic and new), among other things, the UK and the Netherlands were thought of as a culinary Idaho, and in the Mediterranean strange, new, healthy produce would have been taken as demonic. Let's face it: when exports that are small in quantity are tariffed, the effect is non-punitive and the goal is to send message. It's being transmitted to a different elite being inconvenienced by this: the "terroiristes" and those that fawn over them.

nanne on :

Globalisation has certainly given urbanites worldwide better coffee, that is undeniable. It is also funny that a lot of innovations take a strange trajectory (from Milan through Seattle to Berlin). There are winners and losers, and in some sectors the winners by far outweigh the losers; in others they don't. As you say, this was a symbolic measure, but I still don't see what its purpose is at the end of an administration. Obama can quickly make himself popular in Europe by undoing it, though.

Joe Noory on :

Much as the population don't want to see it that way, cultural novelties END UP in Berlin. They rarely start there. That said, Berliners [i]keep at[/i] what they like and cherish. It's why I'm fond of the city.

Brian on :

It's a symbolic measure, but the president has less to do with it than the USTR and the WTO's authorization for "EU-targeted trade actions." So - it's the US acting within the confines of the WTO. Maybe the WTO should be the great satan?

John in Michigan, USA on :

Joe, "'terroiristes'" -- excellent turn of phrase. Apparently this was coined by [url=http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10328977&CFID=972795&CFTOKEN=bf2cc348a4a5486b-122BEA80-B27C-BB00-0143549D1BD7C267]The Economist[/url]? You might enjoy the documentary [url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0411674/]Mondovino[/url] which covers a few amusing skirmishs in what we apparently must now call the "war on terroirism"...

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