France Seeks to Allay Farmers Blocking Cities, Tourist Sites

July 22, 2015 12:49 PM

France’s government pledged aid for farmers following an emergency meeting Tuesday, as meat and dairy producers halted traffic and blocked tourist sites in several regions to protest low prices.

Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll travelled to Caen, in the western region of Normandy, to meet with farmers who have been blocking access to the city since Sunday. President Francois Hollande said an emergency plan will be presented during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

As many as 25,000 livestock farmers in France, or about 10 percent of the total, are close to bankruptcy, according to Le Foll. Falling meat prices don’t cover costs anymore, Philippe Chalmin, an economic professor at Universite Paris-Dauphine, said in an interview on i-Tele.

“We’re dealing with a profession that for a long time has been in a grim situation,” Chalmin said. “People are a little desperate about a situation that is very difficult to resolve.”

French beef producer pretax earnings fell 15 percent in 2014 to an average 15,868 euros ($17,321) while total farm income advanced 7.6 percent to 27,233 euros last year, according to government data published this month.

France’s consumers eat less meat than in the past, while the fragmentation of the industry and a lack of confidence between farmers, processors and retailers are not helping, according to Chalmin.

Helping Farmers

The government has studied as many as 17 proposals on how to help producers, including the possibility of providing bank guarantees that can help farmers service their debts, Le Foll said after a ministerial meeting in Paris today.

But it can’t fix prices for meat and milk, the minister said.

A government mediator on trade relations in agriculture was to report Tuesday evening to Le Foll on price formation in the meat industry.

Beef slaughterers and retailers agreed on June 17 to raise prices by 5 cents a week until production costs are covered, a goal that has been far from met, Le Foll said in an interview on France 2.

“The livestock breeders are in a truly unbearable financial and moral state, and we want to make him realize this situation,” Loic Baillieul, vice-president of local farmer organization FDSEA Calvados, said in an interview on BFM TV, ahead of his meeting with Le Foll

“We’re counting on the government to push on the levers that ensure that as of tomorrow, our products receive a fair price that allows us to live,” Pierre Dupuis, a livestock farmer in Dordogne, said on i-Tele.

In addition to Caen, farmers blocked access to the cities of Evreux in Normandy and Saint-Malo in Brittany as well as regional roads and the World Heritage Site of Mont-Saint-Michel. In the Dordogne region in southwest France, livestock breeders barred access to the replica of the Lascaux Caves, a site with prehistoric art.

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