Farm Ireland

Tuesday 16 January 2018

French blockades threat to €350m beef and lamb trade

Consumers beginning to boycott imported meat as farmers ramp up demands

Inimitable militant French style: French farmers protest
Inimitable militant French style: French farmers protest

Louise Hogan and Joe Healy

Concerns are growing over the country's €350m beef and lamb exports to France, with farmer blockades and disruption at ferry ports hampering the valuable trade.

The farmer protests are now leading to boycotts by some French customers on all types of imported meat.

"Furthermore the French government has insisted that all public institutions must purchase only French product in an effort to support the local production," warned Joe Ryan from Meat Industry Ireland (MII).

There were reports yesterday that some trucks travelling to France were unable to unload their produce at distribution sites which was resulting in surplus lamb being sold at a discount.

Mr Ryan said MII was increasingly concerned by developments in France and the impact it will have on trade.

The processors' body warned the disruption at ferry ports combined with the French farmer protests were impacting negatively on business.

Figures from Bord Bia show France is Ireland's biggest export market for sheep meat valued at €90m or 42pc of all exports last year, with over 50,000 tonnes of Irish beef valued at €260m also destined for French shelves.

"These actions are a cause for significant concern for Irish meat exports. In particular, the lamb trade is very vulnerable given the traditional high level of exports of Irish lamb to the French market during our peak season production at the moment," said Mr Ryan.

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Bord Bia's Declan Fennell said there was a growing pressure among retailers in France to stock more homegrown produce, including lamb.

He said France has always been "strong in terms of nationalistic" outlook but this had particularly strengthened in the last week.


"In France it is very sensitive. We're starting to see a lot more looking for French produce," he said.

He added that similar moves were afoot in other European countries, with British farmers lobbying for more homegrown sales. The source of meat on supermarket shelves has become more of an issue in recent years with clearer country of origin labelling.

The ICSA's Eddie Punch said French farmer protests were a major concern.

"Farmers all over Europe are increasingly frustrated at the way in which they are not getting a fair share of the retail price," he added.

Last week the French farmers secured a €600m support package of price supports and debt restructuring.

French farmers secure €600m aid package

They took to the motorways in their droves causing traffic chaos for businesses and holidaymakers as they put their message across in inimitable militant French style, writes Louise Hogan.

Pigs were released supermarket aisles, piles of steaming manure were dumped and tyres burned on the motorways as French farmers warned over 20,000 farms were on the brink of bankruptcy.

The series of protests meat and dairy prices saw them secure a €600m package of promised price hikes and debt restructuring.

The protests were sparked by drastic cost-cutting by retailers - including below cost payments for pigmeat - while dairy farmers protested they were receiving prices below the cost of production.

The French government responded by announcing a support package including postponing the final third of income tax until December and offering up to €500m worth of working capital for farmers.

Farmers in Britain also took to their tractors to protest over falling milk and lamb prices.

Meanwhile, ICMSA president John Comer said pressures are also beginning to build on dairy farms here with prices down from 39c/l on average last year to as low as 27c/l now.

Unless farmers see some action at national and EU level to stabilise milk prices, Mr Comer said frustration will grow and farmers will make their feelings known.

Mr Comer said the French proposal to delay the payment of income tax was being closely watched by Irish farmers who are facing hefty bills this year following a buoyant 2014.

The ICMSA's Pat McCormack said the drop in milk prices will cost the dairy sector €500m this year and he called for intervention prices to be increased.

Measures need to be taken immediately to stabilise the situation or it will have a knock-on impact on rural businesses, warned the ICMSA.

The IFA met with the German Farmers Association in recent days and has called for the €900m superlevy to be made available to assist the sector. Association leaders will travel to Brussels this week to meet with EU Commission officials.

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