Pig farmers in northwest France have gathered to protest over rising raw material costs and the low price of pork, which they say is threatening their livelihood and forcing them to sell at a loss.
Farmers blockaded the route nationale 12 as they drove around 30 tractors in a convoy to the Côtes d'Armor prefecture building in Saint-Brieuc.
There, they parked them in front of the gates, demanding an audience with authorities, with a view to “obtaining concrete results on the ‘pork crisis’”, they said.
They are asking for measures including financial support, which they say has been given to other sectors in the aftermath of the health crisis.
The protest was called by farming unions the FDSEA and Jeunes Agriculteurs (JA).
In a statement, the groups said: "Whatever the size and type of farming, everyone is in the red. Every week, an average family farm of 200 sows works to generate a loss equivalent to two monthly minimum wages. What citizen would accept this? It is absolutely inconceivable.
“This is a declaration of a state of emergency, it's time to do 'whatever it takes' to save our farmers and their families.
"Abattoirs and retailers must agree on a price that covers our costs, and the state must assume its role in agreeing on negotiation rules that allow for a fair remuneration of the producer.”
One rhyming placard at the protest read: “Macron, Si tu aimes le cochon, sort ton pognon”, which loosely translates as “Macron, if you love pigs, show us the money”.
The price of pork has stagnated at around €1.246 per kilo for months, farmers say, causing them to lose money, while raw materials have become more expensive and other costs have risen.
Yoann Hervé, a spokesperson for JA, told local website Le Penthièvre: “The price has been stagnant for months, but in two years, the cost of food has risen €100 per tonne. Just to cover our costs, we would need at least €1.55 per kilo [of pork]. And almost €1.70 to live decently.”
One protester, Pierre-Manuel, who is a farmer from Penguily, said: “We are being squeezed, with raw materials skyrocketing on the one hand and prices falling on the other. Each pig that is sold comes with a bill of €30 - €35 stuck on it. People don't realise this. We are working at a loss.”
One young farmer explained: “Just paying an extra €5-6 per pig wouldn't change much for the consumer, and we wouldn't be out here having to act the fools. We don't enjoy being here.
“But we’re having to fight for a few cents. We want to have access to [government] aid like the restaurant owners, and, like in the Netherlands, a retirement plan for those who can't take it anymore.”
This is not the first time that pork farmers have protested in recent weeks. On January 8, the president of JA told France 3: “Today, when we sell a pig, we are paid €125 euros. But it eats €125 worth of food.
“We no longer have enough money to pay ourselves, to pay our bills, to repay our loans. An average farm loses €20,000 a month! And they are announcing yet another increase in the price of cereals!”
One onlooker, named Alain, who used to be a caterer in the Paris region, said he sympathised with the protesters, and blamed supermarkets for their super-low prices.
He said: “Everyone is undercutting prices, especially the big supermarkets. Small delicatessens are being destroyed, because they buy at more expensive prices than the supermarkets. How can the farmers make money like this? Everyone has to earn a living.”
Supermarket price wars
It comes just one day after supermarket Lidl added to the current furore over too-low prices in supermarkets, as it joined the E. Leclerc group in selling baguettes for just 29 centimes each.
While CEO of the Leclerc group Michel-Édouard Leclerc said that the move was “symbolic” and designed to send a reassuring message to consumers, Lidl appeared to make the change reluctantly.
Director of Lidl France, Michel Biero, said: “I [am lowering the price] with regret because it is not very responsible. It is fuelling a price war that destroys values and it is sending a dramatic message to an agricultural world that is in great distress today.”
The bakery sector has hit back at the price, saying that it will destroy local bakeries and cause producers to sell at a loss.