France promises emergency aid to farmers

Farmers block road to Mont Saint-Michel. [Reuters]

French President François Hollande on Tuesday (21 July) promised measures to help livestock and dairy farmers who have been protesting for weeks over what they say is a squeeze on their profits by retailers and food processors.

Since the weekend, tractors have blocked roads in northwestern France, home to a large part of the livestock industry, including the route to Mont Saint-Michel, a famous tourist site.

Livestock farmers accuse food companies and supermarkets of not respecting a deal signed last month in which they agreed to raise prices paid to producers.

“Decisions will be made at tomorrow’s cabinet meeting. Beyond the issue of distribution and prices, I have asked that there should be an emergency plan for French livestock and dairy producers,” Hollande told reporters in Paris.

He gave no details other than to say there would be “structural measures”.

The growing protest prompted Agriculture Minister Stephane le Foll to meet farmers in Caen, Normandy, where he said the government would try to refocus subsidies for farmers.

“We will review criteria so that the aid goes to farmers with financial difficulties,” he said after the meeting, citing cuts, delays or cancellations of contributions.

>>Read: EU puts end to 30 years of milk quotas

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

French livestock farmers face a number of challenges, from cheap competition from other EU countries to Russia’s embargo on EU food imports and lower Chinese demand, denting profit margins that are also being squeezed by supermarkets’ pricing power.

A government-commissioned report looking into pricing problems in the meat industry was presented to Le Foll on Tuesday evening rather than Wednesday as originally planned after his return to Paris.

The minister said that it was already clear that in some sectors, mainly beef, prices paid were not as high as those that were agreed upon between parties in June.

“We are going to keep the pressure on so prices are raised. Beef prices should have been raised by 20 cents. We are only at 10 cents. The glass is half full,” Le Foll said on BFM TV late on Tuesday.

“Retailers seem to be respecting the agreement and it’s abattoirs that are, in part, not playing the game,” Jean-Pierre Fleury, head of the national beef federation, said.

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

European Union Economics Commissioner Pierre Moscovici dismissed a call by France’s far-right National Front for talks between Europe and the United States on a free-trade zone to be suspended.

Subscribe to our newsletters