French farmers invade supermarketsto protest prices

20th August 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 19 (AFP) - French produce farmers upset by falling revenues due to oversupply and imports are staging disruptive protests to get help from the government, which is considering price-fixing that could violate EU competition rules.

PARIS, Aug 19 (AFP) - French produce farmers upset by falling revenues due to oversupply and imports are staging disruptive protests to get help from the government, which is considering price-fixing that could violate EU competition rules.

Milk producers invaded supermarkets in Lyon and other cities Thursday, putting stickers on milk cartons and bottles showing the prices they are getting paid versus the retail price.

In Nancy, groups of farmers pushed shopping carts full of dairy products into the street without paying for them and handed them out for free to passers-by.

Fruit and vegetable farmers made their anger known by a series of similar actions, including dumping tonnes of tomatoes, peaches, nectarines and melons in front of government buildings in the south-western towns of Perpignan and Montauban in two separate protests in the past three weeks.

Many of them complain that the big supermarket chains are underpaying them and overcharging consumers to drive up profit margins.

They also say that imports from cheaper countries such as Morocco are undercutting their business through impossible-to-match wage differences.

France's openly ambitious economy and finance minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is jockeying to become head of the ruling conservative Union for a Popular Movement party, has suggested imposing a minimum price for producers on wholesalers and supermarket groups.

But the head of the union representing tomato farmers, Pierre Diot, warned Thursday, after meeting competition authorities in Paris, that such a move would be "suicidal" without state subsidies for unsold stocks.

Sarkozy has suggested tomato farmers be paid EUR. 0. 85 a kilo instead of the EUR 0.30 currently obtained on the market.

But many buyers were balking at that price, and the big supermarket chains "don't want to play the game" when Belgian- and Dutch-grown tomatoes could be had much cheaper, Diot said.

Farmers of other fruits and vegetables have not yet struck an agreement with the chains.

There were also questions as to whether a minimum-price arrangement would pass scrutiny by EU and French competition authorities.

The state consumer and competition agency, the DGCCRF, which falls under the responsibility of Sarkozy, has refused to take a public position on the matter so far.

The FCD, an association grouping supermarkets and other food shops, said it was ready to make a small gesture. But its president, Jerome Bedier, said Wednesday that "we will not be signing anti-competitive contracts."

At the same time, while French consumers have been spending increasingly more on fresh produce over the past four years, they have been getting less and less to show for it, according to industry figures published by Le Monde newspaper. Poor weather for part of the French summer has also depressed the number of salads being eaten, it noted.

As a result, consumption of fruit and vegetables has been declining, creating a glut for some producers who are already struggling against cheaper imports.

"I'm constantly getting calls from producers who absolutely want to sell, even at a lower price even though this morning at the Rungis market (the huge food market for professionals outside Paris) there were no buyers," the head of the National Union for Fruit and Vegetable Wholesalers, " Bernard Piton, said.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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