French farmers stage major protest over milk prices

Furious French farmers have blockaded roads outside the headquarters of dairy giant Lactalis as part of a major protest over low prices.

About 400 dairy farmers took part in the demonstration in the western French city of Laval on Monday evening (22 August), which cut off access to a major Lactalis dairy production factory.

French dairy protest

© François Guyot

Pictures posted on Twitter showed protesters used tyres to block roads in and out of the factory.

Some of the tyres were set on fire in scenes reminiscent of national farmgate prices protests staged in France last summer.

See also: Dairy farmers plan second night of protests

The picketing continued into Tuesday (23 August) as lorries continued to be prevented access in or out of the factory.

The protesters have vowed to continue the action all week.

The protests were organised by two of France’s biggest farming unions, the country’s national union, FDSEA, and the young farmers’ group Jeunes Agriculteurs.

The unions have accused Lactalis, which owns brands including Parmalat cheeses, President butter and Rachel’s Organic, of taking advantage of dairy farmers and not paying them enough for their milk.

Philippe Jehan, president of FDSEA in the Mayenne region in north-west France, told the country’s media the protest sent a strong signal to Lactalis that they needed to pay dairy farmers a fair price for their milk.

Lactalis pays €257 (£221) per 1,000 litres of milk, which is about €30 (£26) less than other French milk processors and the lowest price since 2009.

No access for lorries

Mr Jehan told French media: “No Lactalis lorry will be allowed out of the factory until our views have been heard.”

Around the protest area, young farmers have fixed posters on lorries carrying the slogans: “Farmers on their knees. We have got to save the” and “Our jobs at a price”.

On Monday, Andre Besnier, president of Lactalis, a family-owned dairy company which was formed in 1933, said he was willing to discuss milk prices with French farming union leaders.

“We understand the difficulties for producers today,” said Mr Besnier.

Global oversupply of milk, Russia’s ban on western food imports and weaker demand for dairy products in China have been blamed for the dairy price slump which has crippled farmers both in the UK and EU over the past 18 months.

In the UK, dairy lobby group Farmers For Action blockaded the Muller processing factory in Market Drayton earlier this month over the company’s failure to increase milk prices in line with more positive market signals.

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