French consumers can now buy meat straight from a vending machine.
French consumers can now buy meat straight from a vending machine.

Rarely have two separate news stories practically begged to posted in tandem, and who am I to refuse?

Here’s the first story:

A group of European ministers this week called for the European Commission to develop new animal welfare standards.

“Cows, pigs, and chickens are not production units, they are sentient beings,” Martijn Van Dam, the Dutch agriculture minister, told the European Parliament. “They have a right to more care and more protection.”

Van Dam joined ministers from Sweden, Belgium and Germany urging that the commission develop a new position paper on animal welfare, although he acknowledged to reporters that “things are gradually improving in the Netherlands.”

Here are some of the issues on which the ministers are urging tougher standards:

  • Animal transportation, with transport capped a maximum of eight hours
  • New rules to protect pets, with suggested standardized pet registration procedures across Europe
  • Revised minimum weight requirements for foie gras made from duck or goose liver

It’s that last bullet point that has animal activists the most agitated, and it’s the issue that most energizes their supporters, as well.

Ben Weyts, agricultural minister of the Belgian region Flanders, said that the EU minimum weight requirements for foie gras encourage force feeding. “It is almost impossible to reach the unrealistic standard of the European Union without force-feeding,” he said. “If we lower the bar, it will become possible to get the label of foie gras without so much animal suffering, and foie gras could become foie fair.”

Fair enough.

The rest of the story

Against this backdrop of trying to impose new restrictions on animal agriculture, a parallel development is emerging in France.

Here’s that story:

Let’s say you find yourself strolling the streets of Paris this spring, and you suddenly develop a hunger for some steak or sausage. It won’t matter if it’s late at night, the local bistros are closed and the neighborhood boucheries have shut their doors. Now you can pick up a serving of steak or maybe some beef carpaccio right out of a vending machine.

According to reporting in GlobalMeat.com, special vending machines installed outside local butcher shops and stores can now dispense refrigerated meat products at what were described as “market prices.”

For example: An eight-ounce sirloin steak sells for the equivalent of $9.50; a small rack of pork ribs goes for about $6.00.

According to the story, there are now four of these vending machines — which cost more than $11,000 apiece — installed across France. The products are specially vacuum-packed by butcher shops such as Paris’s L’Ami Txulette (“Your Friend Txulette”).

Which is situated the city’s 11th arrondissement, should you wish to personally check it out.

Despite the agitation Euro activists are trying to foment, Minister Ben Weyts and his colleagues noted that in many countries stricter animal welfare and agricultural profitability sector are seen as incompatible. He made an argument that a “Made in Europe” label would encourage consumers to pay the premium likely to become necessary if tough new rules on animal handling are put in place.

He argued that a label proclaiming “maximum respect for animal welfare” would give European farmers a competitive edge.

However, when asked if Europeans consumers would be willing to pay more for food produced in a way that was animal-friendly, a recent survey reported by euobserver.com revealed a split between the more affluent poorer EU member states and their less affluent neighbors.

In Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria and Portugal a majority of consumers said they would be unwilling to pay more for their meat. And we know how soft the data are when people say they’ll pay more, rather than tracking their actual spending habits.

What they weren’t asked was whether they’d pay a bit more if they could purchase their favorite products from a vending machine at 2 am in the morning.

I’m guessing that would be a vote people could make with their wallets. 

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator