French farmers block roads in 'distress call' over low prices

27th January 2016, Comments 0 comments

Farmers in northwestern France used their tractors to snarl traffic across the region on Wednesday, demanding urgent government action in the face of plunging prices.

"Producers keep losing money while processors and wholesalers keep making more," farmers' unionist Eric Chanu told AFP in the Normandy town of Le Neubourg. "It can't go on any longer."

To underscore their anger, farmers in the area dumped manure outside a slaughterhouse in the town.

By midday, farmers were blocking roads or impeding traffic with "escargot" (snail) operations in 18 locations in Normandy, Brittany and the Pays de la Loire, the western region's highway centre said.

Farmers dumped hay and tyres on a highway in Quimperle, in Brittany, before setting the barricade alight.

Some 360 kilometres (220 miles) to the east, tractors rolled onto a tramline in Le Mans, one of them with "Le Foll Get Lost" scrawled on the front, referring to Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll.

Another banner read "Happy to Have Fed You".

The farmers said they were sending up a "distress call" ahead of a meeting set for Thursday at the government seat of Rennes, in Brittany, which their union has decided to boycott.

Instead, protests that have proliferated since they began last week "will continue", said Thierry Coue, head of Brittany's chapter of the FRSEA farmers union. "We need answers, as well as visibility," he told a Paris news conference.

The producers are especially concerned over the falling prices of pork, milk and beef, and an announcement by Le Foll of a new government support plan failed to calm their anger.

Also Wednesday, a major protest was staged in Mende, southern France, where some 130 tractors from around the region descended on the town's central square.

"Crises are piling up dramatically in the agriculture sector," said Julien Tuffery, head of the Lozere department's Young Farmers group. "It's all the more terrible for a rural (area) like Lozere where agriculture accounts for more than half of the economy."

Christine Valentin, head of the local chamber of agriculture, dismissed Le Foll's announcement as a "bandage on an infected wound."

Union officials said Lozere farmers had just learned that aid promised in 2015 would not be disbursed until the end of 2016.

The latest outburst of anger over plunging prices comes after months of protest action last year from farmers who brought more than 1,500 tractors into Paris in September.

The agriculture ministry estimated at the time that around 10 percent of farms in France -- approximately 22,000 sites -- were on the brink of bankruptcy.

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© 2016 AFP

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