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Call for boycott of Babybel cheese

Disability groups in France are calling for a boycott of some Babybel cheese following accusations that a promotional summer toy insults the mentally ill.

Toy inkpads featuring the term "Mentally ill holidays," were included as free gifts throughout July in bags of Mini Babybel, the round cheese with the iconic red wax coating.

The expression: "des vacances de malade mental," Babybel says, was intended as a fun wordplay on a common French term to mean "extraordinary."

But Babybel later admitted the slogan was not properly thought out. "It was a short marketing campaign and as a result there was an error in validating the slogan. We admit it was very clumsy," Babybel Director General Etienne Lecomte said.

Earlier this week France's leading association for the mentally handicapped, Unapei, called for a nationwide boycott of the cheese packs. It said the slogan sends "discriminatory values" to children.

The boycott initially covered all cheese products made by the Bel Group, the cheese conglomerate that also produces The Laughing Cow cheese.

But Babybel apologised on Wednesday, prompting disability groups to limit their boycott only to the packs containing the toys with the toy inkpads. Babybel said it has stopped their production and is trying to take the remaining packets off shelves.

"Yes, Babybel has apologised, and it's sincere. But the damage might already have been done," said Unapei president Christel Prado.

"Kids go back to school soon, and they'll get asked about their holidays. Kids pick up things easily. Our fear is that they'll repeat: 'We had mentally ill holidays.'"

Babybel management has agreed to talk about ways to fight discrimination in a meeting with disability groups scheduled for September.

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