July 20, 2015 / 10:37 AM / 3 years ago

French livestock farmers block cities as price crisis grows

PARIS (Reuters) - Hundreds of tractors blocked roads in northwestern France on Monday in a protest by livestock farmers against a squeeze in margins by retailers and food processors, prompting the farm minister to invite them to a meeting later this week.

French President Francois Hollande called on Saturday for a rise in prices paid to livestock producers after Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said about 10 percent of them were on the brink of bankruptcy.

Monday’s protests were aimed at keeping the issue in the headlines and getting some action to go with the words.

“We have been trying to make the authorities aware of the farm crisis for several months. We clearly have not been heard,” Sebastien Debieu, head of the local FDSEA farm union, told BFM TV.

The French cattle, pork and milk sector is in crisis due to stagnating international demand linked to a Russian food embargo, slowing Chinese demand and cheap competition from other EU countries. These stresses have exposed longstanding pressures from business costs and retail consolidation in France.

Farmers started blocking the four main routes into Caen in Normandy on Sunday evening with around 300 tractors and machinery including trucks full of manure and rubble.

By Monday afternoon protests had widened to nearby regions, with farmers barring access to the Mont Saint-Michel island, one of France’s most famous tourist sites.

French livestock farmers have been holding protests for several weeks, including a national “night of distress” earlier this month when tyres were set on fire, roads blocked and manure dumped outside supermarkets, mainly in western France, which hosts a large part of the livestock industry.

France’s Socialist government has tried to address farmers’ complaints of unfair prices in the retail sector by persuading food processors and supermarkets to agree to raise prices paid to farms. But farmers accuse the shops and food firms of not respecting the deal.

Le Foll invited protesting farmers in Paris on Thursday to discuss the crisis but these firmly declined the invitation, asking him to travel to Caen instead.

Retailers, who acknowledge price rises are not fully passed on to producers, say they do not buy meat straight from farmers but from processors.

Le Foll has called on a mediator to look where pricing problems in the industry might lie. The report is due on Wednesday.

Additional reporting Dominique Vidalon and Pierre-Henri Allain; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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