French farmers raise stink over falling prices

Farmers using tractors to block a highway in Quimper, north-western France, on Tuesday during a demonstration against the falling prices of their produce. Foreign competition and changing diets - people are eating less meat - have driven down pork, b
Farmers using tractors to block a highway in Quimper, north-western France, on Tuesday during a demonstration against the falling prices of their produce. Foreign competition and changing diets - people are eating less meat - have driven down pork, beef and milk prices.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

They dump manure and block tourist sites to prod govt to take action as bankruptcy looms

PARIS • French farmers yesterday threatened to step up blockades of cities, roads and tourist sites, saying falling prices of produce are driving them to bankruptcy.

Farmers have dumped manure in cities, blocked access roads and motorways and hindered tourists from reaching Mont St Michel in northern France, one of the country's most-visited attractions.

Overnight on Tuesday, farmers blocked the A1 motorway, a key artery between Paris and northern France, with around 500 tractors.

Mr Jean-Pierre Fleury, head of a beef farmer union, said: "The farmers will not let up, for the simple reason they are fighting for their lives."

A combination of changing diets - people are eating less meat - and foreign competition has driven down pork, beef and milk prices. Farmers blame supermarkets, distributors and the food processing industry for keeping prices low.

Retailers and food industry chiefs had promised to raise prices on meat and dairy products after a meeting with farmers last month but the farmers say price hikes in supermarkets have yet to filter down to them. Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said it was clear that in some sectors, mainly beef, prices paid were not as high as those agreed on in June. "We are going to keep the pressure on so prices are raised," he said.

President Francois Hollande has promised to unveil an emergency plan and Mr Le Foll hinted that measures could include tax breaks and debt relief for indebted farms. He said the government would try to refocus subsidies for farmers.

He also called on the European Union to help with milk surpluses linked to the end of the quota system and a tail-off in Chinese demand that has sent global milk prices plummeting.

Around 10 per cent of farms in France (about 22,000) are on the brink of bankruptcy with a combined €1 billion (S$1.5 billion) debt, said the farmers' union, adding that it was expecting "a bit more than trivial measures" from Paris.

Improving the livelihoods of France's often very vocal livestock farmers is a major policy of Mr Hollande's government, which has sought to steer some EU subsidies away from larger crop-based farms.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2015, with the headline 'French farmers raise stink over falling prices'. Print Edition | Subscribe