Watered-down and remixed: French authorities find ‘anomalies’ in butter composition, labeling

France is the second biggest butter producer in the EU, having churned out 404,450 tons in 2022. The French are also among the nations that indulge in butter the most, consuming around 8kg per capita per year.

But a major investigation into the country’s dairy sector carried out by France’s competition, consumer affairs and fraud prevention authority (DGCCRF) revealed discrepancies in the composition and labeling of some butters.

The investigation was carried out in 2019 mainly in dairy farming regions including Brittany, Normandy and Pays-de-la-Loire, with the results published in late December 2023.

A mix of 129 dairy producers, manufacturers and retailers representing the entire sector were inspected, with checks carried out at street markets, bakeries, grocery stores and supermarkets among others.

DGCCRF, which enforces the rules for butter and milk fats composition and labeling, was looking for discrepancies such as high water content and low salt levels, or to identify the otherwise prohibited practice of using reconstituted ingredients to make premium butter.

In its investigation, DGCCRF found that nearly 30% of the establishments had breached various regulations.

For example, four butter samples were found to contain less salt than necessary to allow for a ‘semi-salted’ claim. While France doesn’t have mandatory requirements on salt in butter, a professional code of practice is in place, DGCCRF explained. According to the code, semi-salted butters should contain between 0.8g to 3g of salt per 100g of product, while salted butter should contain more than 3g of salt per 100g of butter.