French farmers vow to step up protests over prices
French farmers, saying falling prices are driving them to the point of bankruptcy, threatened to step up blockades of cities, roads and tourist sites on Wednesday as the government prepared to unveil emergency aid to help 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 the country's most visited attractions.
Overnight Tuesday, farmers 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 farmers, 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 had 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 later Wednesday.
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 a billion euros ($1.1 billion), according to the FNSEA.
FNSEA chief Beulin warned that the farmers were expecting "a bit more than trivial measures" from the government on Wednesday.
He called for "a medium- and long-term plan with ambitions and objectives."
© 2015 AFP