A dispute over Roquefort cheese has again erupted in Australia after authorities there rejected a recent shipment, prompting French dairy group Lactalis to cancel exports to the country in protest.
Lactalis, which owns popular Roquefort brand Société, has stopped sending the iconic blue cheese to Australia until authorities there and in France can resolve a dispute over its safety.
The move is a fresh setback for Roquefort in Australia. Hopes of new market opportunities were raised last year after the country lifted a 10-year ban on the cheese, imposed due to concerns about it being made with unpasteurised sheep's milk.
Several scientists claim cheeses made from raw milk are more susceptible to certain food pathogens, including E-coli, campylobactor and listeria.
Australian safety inspectors last month blocked their fourth Roquefort shipment since the ban ended, because the cheese contained the E.coli bacteria above levels deemed safe by Food Standards Australia New Zealand.
Some have accused Australia of using overly strict standards to keep Roquefort out.
Carson Creagh, spokesperson for the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS), told DairyReporter.com: "AQIS is certainly not blocking Roquefort imports.
"The [four] rejections haven't resulted in any disruption to trade and other consignments have continued to be passed for sale."
High level negotiations between France and Australia, involving foreign affairs, trade, food safety and agriculture delegates, were this week attempting to strike a deal to maintain Roquefort trade.
Lactalis, however, has given up and a group spokesperson told DairyReporter.com it would likely be at least two months and possibly longer before shipments were re-started.
"It's a problem of interpretation of the regulations on sampling. They say the E.coli bacteria must not be present in any batch, but France says it is ok to have the bacteria in some batches [without rejecting the whole shipment]."
He said the dispute was a point of principle for Lactalis, and that the group was cautious about Roquefort's potential for market success in Australia.
Société, which is the main exported Roquefort brand, was only sending a "very small percentage" of its stock, around 40-50 tonnes, to the country annually.
Roquefort, which is cited as far back as 1070, is France's number two cheese, with around 18,500 tonnes produced every year. It is made deep in the hills of the country's southerly Aveyron region and rules of production are enshrined in its Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée status, granted by the government in 2001.