PolitiFact: No beef about it: France relies on nuclear energy

July 01, 2017
Susan Walsh
Rick Perry: France “wouldn’t buy Texas beef for some reason, yet 76 percent of their energy comes from nuclear power.”

Rick Perry roused reporters at the White House this week by taking multiple questions, including an inquiry prompting the former governor to make a curious two-part claim about France.

Reporter: “Can you assure the American people that nuclear waste and nuclear plant safety are such that we should expand nuclear power in this country?’

U.S. Energy Secretary Perry: “You know, I would reflect that — or deflect that, if he was here, to President (Emmanuel) Macron of France, who gets 70-plus percent of their power from nuclear energy.”

“Now,” Perry went on, “this is the country that wouldn’t buy Texas beef for some reason, yet 76 percent of their energy comes from nuclear power. … But the French are a little different when it comes to some things. And one of those I would find it really interesting: Our French friends are very comfortable getting 76 percent, thereabouts, of their energy from nuclear, and I can assure you they’re very fond of getting it at the rate they’re getting it.”

Perry’s juxtaposition of beef, nuclear power and France made us wonder. Have the French refused to buy Texas beef and does France rely on nuclear power for 76 percent of its energy?

We chewed on Perry’s beef beef by contacting Joe Schuele of the U.S. Meat Export Federation. He told us the entire European Union has banned imports of beef produced with growth hormones for nearly three decades. France is one of the EU’s 28 member nations.

The EU does import beef not produced with growth hormones — including about 16,000 metric tons of it, valued at $264 million, in 2016, with perhaps some of that making it to France.

Mindful that Perry led Texas from late 2000 into 2014, we asked about the timing of the EU’s beef limits. The ban on beef produced with growth hormones, Schuele said, traces to 1989.

That roped off many U.S. beef producers, according to a 2015 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service: “In the United States, hormones have been approved for use since the 1950s and are now believed to be used on approximately two-thirds of all cattle and about 90% of the cattle on feedlots. In large U.S. commercial feedlots, their use approaches 100%,” the report said. “Cattle producers use hormones because they allow animals to grow larger and more quickly on less feed and fewer other inputs, thus reducing production costs, but also because they produce a leaner carcass more in line with consumer preferences for diets with reduced fat and cholesterol,” the report said.

We turned next to whether 76 percent of France’s power comes from nuclear plants.

A web search led us to an International Atomic Energy Agency webpage indicating that in 2016, France drew 72 percent of its electricity from 58 nuclear power plants. Our click on the page’s “trend” button on the page yielded a graph suggesting that since 1997, nuclear power has come close to accounting for 80 percent of France’s electricity production.

Similarly, the Paris-based International Energy Agency, whose 29 member nations collectively respond to oil supply interruptions, reports that in 2015 France drew 78 percent of its electricity from nuclear plants.

Our ruling:

Perry told reporters that France “wouldn’t buy Texas beef for some reason, yet 76 percent of their energy comes from nuclear power.”

Perry’s main point holds up; France gets about three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear power. But his beef mention lacks clarification in that it was the European Union (not France alone) that banned only hormone-raised beef. Some beef continues to be imported to the EU.

We rate this claim Mostly True.