April 19, 2024
Europe's farmers are struggling, but some sympathetic consumers are having trouble securing their own food


BOISSY-SAINT-ANTOINE, France (AP) — Truck driver Jeremy Donf understands that French farmers are struggling and he wants to support local food producers. But like many consumers, purchasing French-made food is not always an option.

Farmer protests across Europe this week have highlighted how both farmers and families are being affected these days by a number of factors, including persistent inflation, high interest rates and volatile energy prices.

“We understand their anger because we value farmers. What will we do if they are not here? We will not eat. Protests like this are important,” Donf said.

But when he weighed Spanish-grown lemons at his suburban Paris supermarket, Donf discovered that most of the produce around him was imported. And while French-grown food is available, not everyone can afford it. At the Paris market this week, Moroccan clementines and Polish mushrooms cost almost half that of their French counterparts.

The farmers’ protests received widespread public support in France, even from truck drivers like Donf, whose livelihoods were threatened by highway blockades that have been part of the protests. Donf lives in Boucy-Saint-Antoine, a suburb of Paris, but comes from the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion, where farming is important and many people buy directly from local farmers.

Governments including France, Spain and Greece in recent days agreed to inject hundreds of millions of euros into the agriculture sector to placate protesters. The EU also made concessions to farmers sensitive to voters’ concerns ahead of European Parliament elections in June.

At a nearby farmers’ market this week, due to recent protests, many shoppers specifically chose more expensive French meat and vegetables rather than cheaper imports.

“I know very well that for some people it is not easy to spend more money on food, but since my pension allows me to do so, I decided to prefer high-quality (French) products, ” said Patrick Jobard, a retiree.

Prices of wheat, corn and other grains – except rice – are lower than before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pushing global food commodity prices to record highs in 2022, worsening hunger around the world but Helped in the income of farmers.

Meanwhile, consumers are not seeing a big benefit from lower prices for wheat and other food commodities traded on global markets because the price increases seen at the grocery store are offset by other costs after the food leaves the farm. is, said Joseph Glauber, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Things like energy costs and higher wages for labor are “impacting every step of food processing, all the way to retail shelves,” he said.

With prices falling, farmers are getting lower prices for their produce than before and face uncertainty from volatile energy prices.

It’s especially hard for farmers in Europe, he said, because of attacks on ships in the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthi rebels that have led to the loss of cheap Russian natural gas and trade disruptions.

The Red Sea is a vital trade route between Asia and Europe, so farmers from the EU, Ukraine and Russia are facing the consequences of shipping companies diverting ships on long voyages around the tip of southern Africa.

“Those costs are passed back to producers,” said Glauber, the former chief economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

What’s more, interest rates are high, making it more expensive to borrow money to buy farm equipment and other necessities. European farmers also face climate regulations that could drive up costs that are not being borne by competitors in the US and elsewhere.

However, farmers in major economies such as Europe and the US receive government funding to grow food, while “a large portion of agriculture around the world is unsubsidized. And they are competing in this environment,” Glauber said.

Economies have slowed down, especially in Europe, so food inflation has gone down, but “people still think about two years ago and say, ‘Boy, this meat is still very expensive compared to what it was. I was paying two years ago,” he said. ,

Cheap imports are a major concern for farmers across Europe.

In France, a major focus of farmers’ anger was the huge Rungis trading center, Europe’s largest food market. It supplies food to many Paris restaurants and supermarkets but is also seen as a symbol of globalized food chains.

A group of farmers from the rural south-west camped with their tractors outside its gates this week, and later pushed back armored vehicles protecting the site, leading to 91 arrests.

“I decided to come here because it’s a very symbolic place, a symbol of food,” said grain and orchard farmer Jean-Baptiste Chemin, who arrived on his tractor from the Lot-et-Garonne region of southern France. Nearby was a sign that read, “We are feeding you and we are dying.”

When the police came to take him into custody, he joked with them in his distinctive Southern accent that he would not mind being taken to the police station. “Anyway I’ve already traveled 600 kilometers (360 miles).”

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Associated Press writer Courtney Bonnell in London contributed to this report.

Jade Le Daly, The Associated Press

Source: ca.finance.yahoo.com

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