A farmer is locked in a battle with telecoms operators over a 4G mobile phone mast that he believes is making his herd of dairy cattle ill.
Frédéric Salgues, who runs a farm in Mazeyrat d’Allier, in Haute-Loire, with other family members, won a court order to have the electricity to the mast turned off to check if it was disturbing his animals.
The court order was overturned after an appeal to France’s highest administrative court by the telephone operators.
Farmers cut the supply themselves
The Conseil d’État ruled that the court in Clermont-Ferrand had not demonstrated “the existence of a grave danger”.
The day after the appeal, a group of farmers and other supporters joined together and cut the electricity supply at the circuit breaker, piling old car tyres around the equipment to slow down attempts to restore the current.
Mayor saw cows were happier
Local mayor Philippe Molherat said: “When I got to the farm about an hour after they did that, the difference in the cows was remarkable.
“Whereas before, when I had been to talk to the farmers about the problems, the cows were looking unhappy and huddled together in groups, after the current was cut to the mast, they started to relax and move around.
“We also noticed swallows and pigeons which had been avoiding the farm stables were back – all this within a quarter of an hour.”
Catch-22 for farmer
The operators of the mast, shared by all four of France’s mobile phone providers, returned with gendarmes the next day and re-established power.
“I do not know what will happen now,” said Mr Molherat.
“There are more court hearings because the appeal court sent it back to the lower courts to take care of the technicalities.
“However the fundamental problem is that the only way you can get expert reports acceptable to the courts is to switch off the mast and see the effect on the farm, which the operators refuse to do.
“This has upset many farmers and I am worried about what they might do.”
Unexplained cow deaths
Mr Salgues agreed to have the mast installed on his land, 400m from his livestock barn, originally believing it to be a useful service to the community.
It was partly financed by the New Deal Mobile, a government plan to improve mobile coverage in rural areas.
It gave 200 households access to fast 3G and 4G telephone connections.
However, since the tower started operating, the farm reports losing 20 heifers and 30 calves, with vets unable to find any logical explanation.
The remaining cows stay away from the antenna outside and when in the barn cluster in groups, skipping over some areas of the barn, according to the farmer.
He thinks the only explanation is that electromagnetic waves, from the phone equipment or from the electric cable which was laid to power it, are interfering with the livestock.
Over the years, many people have claimed such harm is possible.
However, the telecoms operators say there has never been a scientifically proven case of harm to people or animals from phone equipment.