French farmers vow to step up protests over prices
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
REUTERS photoFrench farmers protesting over falling food prices threatened to step up blockades of cities, roads and tourist sites on July 22, as the government prepared to unveil emergency aid for them.
Farmers have dumped manure in cities, blocked access roads and motorways and hindered tourists from reaching Mont St-Michel in northern France, one of France’s most visited sites.
Overnight July 21, farmers briefly blocked the A1 motorway, a key artery between Paris and northern France, with around 500 tractors.
The head of the powerful FNSEA farmers’ union, Xavier Beulin, said he expected the protests to continue, adding they “could be extended to other regions on Wednesday.”
Jean-Pierre Fleury, head of a union representing beef producers, said: “The farmers will not let up, for the simple reason they are fighting for their lives.”
A combination of changing dietary habits- French consumers 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 promised to raise prices on meat and dairy after a meeting with farmers last month, but the farmers say price hikes in supermarkets have yet to filter down to them.
Stung into action, French President Francois Hollande has promised to unveil an emergency plan soon.
Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll has already hinted measures could include tax breaks and debt relief for heavily indebted farms.
The government will also publish an eagerly awaited report by an independent mediator which will decide who is at fault for keeping prices low.
Le Foll has said around 10 percent of farms in France (approximately 22,000 operations) are on the brink of bankruptcy with a combined debt of 1.0 billion euros ($1.1 billion), according to the FNSEA.