Protesting French farmers have blocked several routes into their country from Germany and Spain, turning back hundreds of trucks transporting foreign produce and food products.
The farmers have been protesting since July 19 over the government's perceived failure to address an agricultural crisis that has left one in 10 French farmers on the verge of bankruptcy, according to French Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll.
Last week, angry farmers dumped manure outside government buildings and let pigs loose inside stores to voice their frustration over cheap European produce. They say pressure from major retailers and processors has led to unsustainably low meat and dairy prices.
"Farmers dump manure on the steps of the Puy-de-Dôme prefecture"
"Angry farmers let pigs loose in a supermarket in Agen"
According to French weekly Le Point, farmers blocked five bridges linking Germany to France with tractors and hay bales, turning back at least 400 trucks. Gérard Lorber, the secretary general of the Departmental Federation of Farmers' Unions (FDSEA) for the eastern Bas-Rhin district, said that he and his colleagues had been "on the lookout for [foreign] license plates." Speaking to VICE News Monday, Lorber explained that farmers had specifically targeted refrigerated trucks.
"Farmers checking the cargo of trucks from Germany"
"Some of the drivers were nicer than others when it came to letting us check their cargo," Lorber said. "We found some pretty astonishing things — including a truck that was transporting Laughing Cow [cheese] made in Slovakia," a product he says most French consumers would think of as made in France.
While the majority of recent protests have been carried out by livestock farmers, those blocking the German border highways are mainly "fruit and vegetable producers that are suffering from distorted competition" from EU countries with cheaper labor costs. French farmers were "for Europe," he explained, but were calling on the EU to harmonize prices in order to stamp out unfair competition.
After securing a meeting with the agriculture minister, local farmers started lifting their blockade at 3pm on Monday, Lorber said. Speaking from the South of France on Monday, President François Hollande backed the farmers and said the government was "on their side, protests or not."
Farmers also blocked roads in southwest France, near the Spanish border. A roadblock that was set up at 10pm Sunday night in the Haut-Garonne district was lifted by 2am Monday. In the Ariège district — also along the Spanish border — 100 farmers stormed a supermarket and confiscated 300 kilos of meat. Local farmers' union rep Joël Venturin told AFP that the meat would be turned over to local charities.
Blockades were also reported Monday in the district of Mayenne in Normandy, and in Brittany.
"Breton farmers block the Gravelle tollgate on the road to Rennes"
Last week, the government unveiled an emergency aid package of 600 million euros to help French farmers stay afloat. The package includes 100 million euros in tax exemptions and another 500 million for delayed payments.
On June 17, meat sector stakeholders agreed to pay livestock farmers an extra .05 euros per week for every kilo of meat, as long as they needed help covering production costs. But farmers say the agreement was not adhered to, and that the price of beef rose by .07 euros over the course of a month.
Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray
Photo via Luc Legay/Flickr
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