Do your bit for farmers and eat more fries, Belgians urged

MOUSCRON, Belgium (Reuters) - With potato farmers and processors struggling, Belgians are being urged to eat more fries to offset a slump in demand during the coronavirus pandemic.

Belgium is the world’s largest exporter of fries and other frozen potato products, its processors converting 5.3 million tonnes of potatoes into fries, mash and crisps per year and sending them to customers in more than 160 countries.

Restrictions to halt the spread of the coronavirus have forced the closure of cafes and restaurants, the industry’s prime customers for fries, and processing firms have seen demand fall by as much as 80%.

“We know Belgians like their fries, it’s intangible heritage our frying culture, so we ask Belgians to consume an extra portion of fries to allow us to process more potatoes and to avoid food waste,” Romain Cools, secretary-general of industry group Belgapom, told Reuters TV.

Belgapom says worldwide demand for frozen fries has dropped by more than 40%. The potato sectors in neighbouring France, Germany and the Netherlands are also facing problems.

In Belgium, some 750,000 tonnes of potatoes would not be processed this year as a result and they were varieties not suitable for other culinary uses. Some were being exported, some given to food banks, some fed to cattle and the rest converted into energy at biomass plants.

Belgian farmers were likely to lose 125 million euros of income, Cools said.

Cools urged Belgians to eat an extra portion of fries per week, cooking at home as well as going to stands selling fries, which have been allowed to stay open.

Many Belgians say the country invented fries but that U.S. troops stationed in the French-speaking part of Belgium during World War One mistakenly called them “French fries”.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Janet Lawrence