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LOOK: Oh mon Dieu! Foodies in a bit of a pickle with global French mustard shortage

Lo and behold, the world's backup mustard seed supplier is Ukraine. Pictures in graphic: Magali Cohen / Hans Lucas via Reuters and Jeff Pachoud/AFP

Lo and behold, the world's backup mustard seed supplier is Ukraine. Pictures in graphic: Magali Cohen / Hans Lucas via Reuters and Jeff Pachoud/AFP

Published Aug 5, 2022

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The world has found itself in a bit of a pickle, there is no French mustard available anywhere as the mustard makers of Burgundy cannot get any mustard seed to make the vinegary condiment.

Mustard makers get most of their seeds from western Canada. Food economist and distribution expert Sylvain Charlebois of Dalhousie University told The Toronto Star media outlet that “the harvest for mustard in Canada wasn’t great last year." So that’s been a challenge. Lo and behold, the world's backup mustard seed supplier is Ukraine.

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France24 reported that mustard production decreased by 28% in 2021 and that "when Canada coughs, it's Burgundy, 7 000 kilometres away in central France, that catches a cold."

Canadian seed production fell by two-thirds due to changes in the local environment, which included higher than normal temperatures, resulting in an explosion of insect populations which feed on the mustard seeds.

The president of the Association of Burgundy Mustard Seed Producers (APGMB) told France24 that "sometimes there is no production at all. The industry is no longer allowed to use insecticides, which are authorised in Canada.“

Mustard is an important part of French cuisine, with Financial Times writer, Victor Mallet, noting that mustard is a "condiment with which we used to eke out our cash as teenagers by slathering it on endless slices of baguette as we hitch-hiked around France in the 1970s."

A chef in Paris explains that it is "fundamental to French cuisine."

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Treehugger.com reported that the Food Ingredients website reported that French mustard producers are calling for the development of more insect-resistant seeds, as well as "expanding the supply to other regions of France to mitigate the weather conditions."

The lack of posh mustard is not exactly high on the list of global issues, but it does send a powerful message on the negative impacts of unchecked globalisation, with a drought in France, a heat dome in Canada, a war in Ukraine, and even a shortage of bottles due to the pandemic/war-induced supply chain crisis.

A report from the University of Bonn and the Breakthrough Institute, published in Trends in Plant Science, is also calling for more genetically-modified foods in Europe, suggesting they can increase yields, reduce emissions, and mitigate land-use changes.

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"The public debate about GM crops and new genomic breeding technologies remains contentious, especially in Europe. Critics focus primarily on hypothetical risks while ignoring actual and potential benefits.

“Various reviews of the scientific literature show that the adoption of GM crops leads to economic, environmental, and health benefits through higher crop yields, higher farm profits, and, in some cases, lower chemical pesticide use," the report read.

A publication based in the Netherlands indicated that globally, consumers are paying a premium of up to 75% for Dijon mustard, depending on packaging size and type, in comparison with 2021 prices.

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A similar situation played out in 2017, as Canada, the world’s leading grower, saw mustard crops destroyed by extremely dry weather conditions, causing prices for Dijon to spike.

American mustard is unlikely to be noticeably impacted, according to Charlebois, it’s the more high-end, Dijon variety which stands to fall victim to the supply chain.

“You need more mustard seed for Dijon, plain and simple. You need more seeds for that texture, and there just aren’t enough,” Charlebois said.

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