French farmers may conjure imagery of the purest food, of quaintness, quietude, and lolling about in rolling bucolic hills on the French countryside. But in a big move against multinational agricultural trade agreements, French farmers are stepping off their land and taking to the streets.
A number of French meat and dairy farmers are protesting the trade agreements, even blocking some of the nation’s most famous sites, reports Vice: “Want to see medieval abbey Mont St. Michel, or the famous Paleolithic paintings in the Lascaux Caves? Sorry, the route may be blocked by flaming manure piles. Trying to get to the Channel Tunnel? Mountains of tires and trash may be blocking the way. And all of this is a protest by farmers to defend French-made food.”
If France is known for anything, it’s not so much that creaky tower in Paris as it is the food served all over the country and the world. Food is the essence of French culture, and it’s in jeopardy of becoming a relic, according to some of the nation’s longtime farmers. The unionized farmers have become gravely concerned about cheap food imports coming across the border from neighboring countries including Germany and Spain, which the farmers say, drives down the price for French-grown food and animal products and puts their farms on the brink of bankruptcy.
While the French have a reputation for spending more money on food than Americans, French supermarkets have begun to demand lower prices and, as a result, lower quality food is being imported to satisfy that demand. As a result, as much as ten percent of France’s livestock farms are in jeopardy of filing for bankruptcy and losing their farms. Without French farms, there is no truly French food.
In the latest effort to draw attention to the issue, French farmers recently set up roadblocks at the Spanish and German borders, “in the hopes of halting any trucks containing food from entering the country,” reports Vice.
“For example, we made a truck carrying Babybel turn back. Consumers think it is French but this cheese came from Slovakia,” said Franck Sander, the president of the local branch of the FNSEA farmers’ union.
Despite the imports making their way into the country, France is still Europe’s largest agricultural producer. But under European Union regulations, French farmers cannot receive financial aid from the French government (which would be similar to U.S. farm subsidies that have been blamed for promoting disruptive agricultural practices and controversial genetically modified crops). The French government can provide loan backing and delay tax payments for farmers, which it has offered, but the farmers say it won’t fix the issue.
The President of France, Francois Hollande, says farmers should know: “We are on their side.” But according to Vie, the farmers aren’t accepting that notion. “So burning tires, manure mountains, and tractor pileups are keeping people off roads. Why can’t all revolutions be at the barrel of a piping bag?”
Image of French cheese via Shutterstock