A French Grocer Protested Stupid EU Food Regulations and Won

Carrefour used artful civil disobedience and smart marketing to challenge ridiculous regulations.


Eric Gaillard/REUTERS/Newscom

A French superstore (or hypermarket) chain, Carrefour, recently fought back against dumb EU food laws—and won.

You've probably never heard of Carrefour. The company, headquartered just outside Paris, opened its first hypermarket in 1963. Today, the company operates more than 12,000 stores in more than 30 countries, boasts nearly 400,000 employees, and generates more than €100 billion in annual sales. As of last year, according to the Financial Times, it was "the world's second-largest retailer in terms of revenues."

Despite top-flight revenues, critics, including some key players inside the company itself, have long painted Carrefour as stodgy and stuck in its ways. But that might be changing.

The company recently partnered with Google to sell groceries online in France, the first time Google has entered the realm of online food sales. Carrefour also recently announced a partnership with competitor Système U on purchases of food from "large national and international brands," in a bid to remain competitive against retail and online competitors.

Last month, the grocer also announced it would become the first French grocery to ensure all of its store-brand packaging is recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025. And it reported this month that it was swapping out plastic bags for biodegradable ones in all of its Romanian stores by next year.

While these recent announcements by Carrefour paint a pretty cool picture, the company made perhaps its biggest impact recently by openly flouting a set of ridiculous EU regulations that caused millions of farm seed varieties to be banned. These longstanding and mind-numbingly stupid EU seed rules were as awful as they sound.

Under the rules, legal seeds were listed in the suitably nefarious sounding Official Catalogue of Authorized Species, which "dictates which seeds are eligible for sale and cultivation" in the EU. (Notably, such controversies aren't uniquely European.)

"In Europe, the commercial seed supply system is highly organised and controlled. European law on seed marketing has evolved over the years to ensure that only uniform seeds for industrial farming can be sold on the market, condemning farmers' seeds and traditional varieties to the black market if not complete illegality," wrote French farmer Guy Kastler in a 2005 piece.

The purpose of the EU seed rules, adopted in the early 1980s, was "to prevent unscrupulous seed merchants from selling poor-quality seed of unknown varieties." In reality, though, the rules, reports indicate, made more than 2 million varieties of seed illegal, or 97 percent of farm-appropriate seeds.

Carrefour challenged the rules in an effort "to provide its patrons with more options while supporting agricultural diversity." The company did so through a campaign dubbed invariably "Forbidden Market" or "Black Supermarket," which saw the hyperstore selling "illegal cereals, fruits and vegetables" from forbidden seeds in an effort to mock and overturn the rules.

This wasn't a risk-free protest. Carrefour risked steep fines with its black-market tactics. Put in American terms, the company's actions might be the equivalent of Walmart protesting dumb laws by selling raw milk in all its stores or giving away untaxed grocery bags in stores forced under the law to collect bag taxes.

Carrefour's may be the first radical corporate protest to involve the sale of, for example, forbidden varieties of radishes.

"Around 40 [Carrefour] stores around Paris and Brittany began selling varieties of fruit and vegetables never previously marketed in supermarkets and hypermarkets, including pink onions from Armorica, Camus artichokes from Léon, Glas Ruz artichokes, half-length Cléder shallots, Angélique pumpkins, Kouign Amann butternut squash, Kanevedenn tomatoes, Trégor white beans, Brittany tangy rhubarb and Armorican black radishes," the European produce-buyers website FruitNet reported this month.

Stunningly, the EU flinched. "A campaign backed by French retailer Carrefour that called on the European Union to abandon restrictions on the sale of many different types of organic fruit and vegetable seed has apparently achieved a major breakthrough, following a decision by European agriculture ministers to relax EU-wide regulations that had been in place since 1981," FruitNet reported.

"After the European Parliament approved the unrestricted marketing of farmers' seeds in April, organic farmers' seeds will no longer need to be included in official catalogues, with sales authorized for organic farmers from January 2021," Carrefour said in a news release.

This will likely spur the return to grocer shelves of many produce varieties that had been banned under the law, something Carrefour and others have viewed as a real problem.

"[T]he main barrier to food quality in France is not the competitors [nor] consumers' behavior; no, it is the law," said Gaëtan du Peloux, who led the marketing for Carrefour's Black Supermarkets campaign, in remarks that touched a particular nerve with me, since I wrote a whole damned book that makes this argument. "So we came up with the idea that, to change the law, maybe Carrefour had to defy it."

"It's heartwarming when a brand uses its scale in the interest of the public good," Adweek reported of Carrefour. "It's better still when its impact is so massive it changes harmful laws."

NEXT: The Insanely Eventful Life of Grateful Dead Lyricist John Perry Barlow

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  1. Now can we also legalize the seed of incels, and find them some fertile planting grounds?

    Society demands JUSTICE!!! Action NOW!!!

      1. Incels demand prompt addition of “Addyi” to nationwide drinking-water supplies!!! It’s the only sensible and fair thing left to do!!!

      2. Why the controversy over a drug to enhance a woman’s desire? There are all kinds of products that treat low-T for men.

        1. 1) SoCons would hate it because goddamnit wimmins are not supposed to enjoy sex!
          2) Feminists would hate it because goddamnit wimmins are not supposed to enjoy sex!
          3) The politically obsessed have abnormal fixations on other people’s lives (maybe get them a pill to chillout, eh?).
          4) “Think of the sweet college girls who will get roofied with this! Sure, it’s never happened, but it definitely will!”

          1. Speaking of involuntarily receiving a drug that influences your sex life …

            Priapism is a side effect of a medication I started taking as a teenager thanks to a no good doctor. When I got engaged to get married, my mom freaked out over the prospect of me leaving her for another woman. She rallied her relatives to harass me until I agreed to an increased dosage of that medication. Talk about your mixed signals.

          2. My church hosts an annual seminar to help women enjoy sex…

        2. There’s actually a reasonable answer. The drug barely works, it has dangerous side effects, especially in combination with alcohol, and the FDA would never have approved it if not for a pressure campaign from a feminist organization. They’ve tried to paint any opposition to this drug as misogynist, but the simple fact is that it’s a terrible product. A guy who goes by TL;DR has done a whole series of videos on the topic.

    1. You know what other European obsessed about the state certified genetic purity of seed?

      1. About every other European leader of the past 200 years.

      2. Hehe. I love this game. Too bad not too many people have been contributing answers to this type of question lately. (For the newcomers, the question’s obvious answer is always Hitler, but readers come up with really funny answers when they play the game; it took me a while to figure it out but once I got it, I thought it was one of the better subtleties hidden in the reason comment section).

  2. It is a hopeful sign that large corporations are pushing back, winning, and being positively recognized for it.
    It’s a good start, let us hope it continues.

    1. The real problem is that in Europe, you have to be a big European corporation to affect this kind of change. Had a small independent grocer done this or, say, Walmart, they would have had the book thrown at them. The only impulse more powerful than the EU’s nanny-statism is its desire to protect its big multinationals.

      The examples of EU looking the other way with companies like Airbus are a fun irony to point out when Europeans try to bleat about their protection of the little guy. Even VW, who had been defrauding the whole world for years on its diesel cars, never faced fines from EU. They received a fine of $1Bn Euros from Germany. Contrast that with the US, where they paid over $20 Bn and a mid level manager was sentenced to 7 years in jail. The high level management, who was shown in that court case to have known about and even directed the coverup, face no such penalties because the EU declines to prosecute and Germany will not extradite them to the US.

      I’m not saying that the US doesn’t have its own problems with crony capitalism. I’m just pointing out that these “Wins for Market Freedom” only come in Europe when one of its big corporations has some serious money to earn.

      1. Well, it worked for Amazon in Seattle.
        It will be interesting to see if Google stands up to the Mountain View nonsense.

      2. Speaking of a manager who helped with a coverup at her facility … I played some pool this afternoon.

  3. “So we came up with the idea that, to change the law, maybe Carrefour had to defy it.”

    Props to Henry David Thoreau?

  4. Off topic from HuffPo: California DNC Member Suggests Superdelegate Reform Is Part Of Russian Plot

    Not content with stealing the 2016 election from the most qualified candidate ever and installing a white nationalist Kremlin asset, Russia continues to attack the very foundations of our democratic system. I still have faith in Mueller, but he really needs to hurry up and kick Drumpf out of office. #TrumpRussia is the biggest scandal in the history of this planet. We are living in truly dangerous times.


    1. #FoodForThoughtNot

    2. Hillary and ALL of us proggies need to get ourselves some Russian citizenships, vote Putin OUT, and Hillary IN, as Czarina of Russia, and THEN things will start going right in this particular galactic cluster!

      (If you think Catherine the Great of Russia did some amazing things, wait till you see what Hillary does!)

      1. Hillary replacing Putin in Russia would be fantastic, but I’d rather see her replace Drumpf in America. Don’t forget, according to Newsweek Hillary Clinton Could Still Become President if Russia Probe Finds Conspiracy Evidence.


        1. #StillWithHer? Is this some booze reference, a secret coded hint that she imbibes perhaps too much, something she picked up from her exile in Arkansas?

        2. I have to admit, that’s some seriously funny conspiracy theory stuff you linked to there.

          President Trump gets impeached (possible)

          Vice President Pence resigns (why?)

          Speaker of the House Ryan (or his successor) recognizes that it is right and proper that the defeated Presidential candidate is more properly entitled to be President than a mere Representative, and somehow lets Hillary take his spot in the succession.

          That last step is the doozy. Lawrence Lessig has done some good work in the free speech arena, but he’s also incredibly partisan in what free speech he supports. He never explains how Ryan can just “give up” his slot and let Hillary cut in line. The law on succession is pretty clear, and Ryan doesn’t own his speakership, so he can’t give it away; if he were to resign and his stat’s governor to appoint a replacement, that replacement does not inherit the speakership. The article doesn’t provide any mechanism for this “??? profit” step.

          1. But what if it is revealed that Putin is a Space Alien Cyborg with mind-control powers that MADE millions of Americans vote for Trump? What if this can be PROVED in court?!?

            Are there ANY cuntstitutional or legal provisions to cover this scenario? If not, and if the Democrats can round up enough fancy-pants lawyers, then all bets are off!

            So if anyone “out there” is badly scared of the above-described scenario, then it is high time, NOW, to start gathering evidence that votes for Hillary were often cast by mind-controlled voters, as well!!!

            1. Yes, there is actually a legal provision in the event of “a foreign agent from outer space with mind-control powers directly impacting an election through usage of these powers.” In the event of such a thing happening, Warren Zevon is to be resurrected and to assume the office of Vice President; the President will, of course, be immediately replaced by a mountain tapir.

              1. Tapir subsequently assassinated by FBI.

          2. The article doesn’t provide any mechanism for this “??? profit” step.

            Because SCOTUS will get it right this time and declare an election do-over, the way they should have after the hanging chads mistake.

            Unless the Robed Ones calculate in the part where TMQCE used the DNC to steal the nomination from the Democrat who would probably have beaten Trump, and declare a Bernie administration.

            I’d bring popcorn to watch that.

      2. Two horses?

        1. Nothing compared to Snidely Whiplash. He took two mooses.

        2. cue PETA – – – –

      3. I have to admit that the image of Her Shrillness being buggered by a horse is an attractive one.

        1. That poor horse. A fate worse than the glue factory.

        2. That is quite possibly the most perverse use of the word “attractive” I’ve ever heard.

          1. +1, possibly the most attractive use of the word “perverse” I’ve ever heard.

    3. OBL, you killed it with this post. This entire thread, really. It’s just fucked up enough to sound parodic, but you KNOW there are a fair few people who think exactly this.

      1. At least one of them writes for Newsweek.

    4. I can’t believe Drumpf hired those Pakis to infiltrate the DNC IT Dept. either. This needs looking into, unless doing so would be racust

  5. And a pretty damned good book it is, too.

  6. No surprise (being a Frenchy store) but every Carrefour has a kick-ass Bakery department.

    1. Too bad (being a Frenchy store) they’re only open on alternate Tuesdays from 2PM until 3:30PM and there’ll never be more than one cashier+50 other employees standing around.

      1. And those 50 are discussing how oppressed they are.

      2. The carrefours in my city are open 24 hours, 7 days a week.

  7. How embarrassing for the EU – you surrendered to the French?

      1. Yeah, life after Britex means France being the biggest power in the EU. Cause seriously … when was the last time Germany started a fight by itself and won?

        1. Never; Germany didn’t exist as a country until the Franco Prussian war, and it was teh French who declared war on Germany. Oh for two.

      2. Pardon me, he was a Corsican.

          1. As Joan of Arc figured out centuries before Nappy, French troops can do OK, provided they aren’t led by a Frenchman.

    1. To be fair, in this case, the French also surrendered to the French.

  8. The EU bureaucrats have no clue how much resentment they are causing. Know nothings in the gastronomic wasteland of Germany are telling Italians how mozzarella is to be produced… you can’t make this stuff up.

    1. But the Germans are providing Top Men. TOP MEN! They’re experts. They’ve read all the books and talked to some people.

      1. And working in a secret underground bunker, er, lab, they have perfected the synthetic cheese.

    2. Can you give a citation? I’d love to read about this one.

  9. You know who else was worried about the purity of European seed?

    1. Jack D. Ripper, late USAF?

    2. I don’t know the Germans don’t seem to be too concerned about spreading their seed. They’d rather allow in hundreds of thousands of immigrants who shit on European traditions and seek to instill their own 3rd world sensibilities. Germans, that ain’t a great way to increase your population.

      1. But the Germans are really into shit.

  10. OT: In 2 separate incidents in one day, KC police shoot and kill 3 people. pair-of-police-shootings-leave-3-dead- in-kansas-city/

    Posting from phone…sorry for bad html etiquette.

    “Police Capt. Lionel Col?n said he doesn’t know if the woman was armed when she was killed and that he hopes to have information about whether a sword was found at the scene later Friday.”

    1. From the article:

      The first shooting involved a woman with a sword who police say barricaded herself inside the shed of a Northland home she had broken into.

      Police Capt. Lionel Col?n said he doesn’t know if the woman was armed when she was killed and that he hopes to have information about whether a sword was found at the scene later Friday. He also said he doesn’t know if the woman had left the shed or was still inside when she was shot.

      Awful lot of uncertainty there.

    2. Take that shit somewhere else, that doesn’t have a fucking thing to do with this article.

      1. That’s why it was marked as “Off Topic.”

        That’s what OT means.

        1. To Scientologists, OT means “Operating Thetan”. I aspire to become an OT, but can NOT afford $100,000 in “donations” to this “Church” of Scientology! So I guess I must remain a simple and humble muggle…

          1. “To Scientologists, OT means “Operating Thetan”.”

            One more abbreviation (NOT acronym) to remember. Or not.

  11. Good for them.
    Always grateful to see companies standing up to government overreach.

  12. So the law was so that low quality seeds wouldn’t be sold. How long do you think a company selling shitty seeds will last in the free market place. Jesus fucking christ the Europeans can be stupid. I’m sure farmers are going to be like “these are really shitty seeds, I’ll never buy from this company again” . Ugggg.

    1. They’ll last a pretty long time – as long as they’re selling the seeds at a suitable price point.

    2. The kicker seems to be that it banned the sale of products grown from the bad seeds.

  13. Last month, the grocer also announced it would become the first French grocery to ensure all of its store-brand packaging is recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025. And it reported this month that it was swapping out plastic bags for biodegradable ones in all of its Romanian stores by next year.

    Brave. 2025 is seven years off. Let’s see who remembers that promise. And Carrefour’s Romanian sales are just 2.34% of their total sales. They’re not risking much one way or the other.

    1. “recyclable, reusable, or compostable”

      What packaging is used now that isnt one of these things??

      1. Good point.
        “reuseable” covers about anything you toss in the trash, since the ‘reuse’ isn’t defined. It could be ‘reused’ as a landfill under a new gold course.
        Typical green-wash from the marketing department, and I wouldn’t expect less from them. That’s their job; to convince low-info consumers that it’s just fine to buy here.

  14. What a screwed-up rationale for the regulation of seeds. “might sell inferior-quality seeds” to someone? WTF? The cost of production, gathering and distribution of seeds is static for inferior, superior or fucking cosmic great seeds. How is that even a scam. It’s like cutting corners off a $20 bill and gluing them onto a $1 bill: not a sound business model.

    The quality question sorts itself out in the market as the seller of (what turn out to be) inferior seeds loses customers pretty fast. But why let something perfectly predictable like that happen when you can employ a whole eMonastery full of eScribes to make a list of 3% of all seeds and ban everything else?

  15. I trade Carrefour! Good stuff.

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  17. very good, i trade a lot of things from Here

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