Michel Euler/AP

French Farmers Protest with Sheep at Eiffel Tower

November 14, 2008 03:10 PM
by Isabel Cowles
French sheep breeders took more than 100 sheep to graze at the Eiffel Tower to protest a too-slim farm aid package presented by the French government.

French farmers unsatisfied with government aid package

On Nov. 13, approximately 700 to 800 French sheep breeders took their herds to a plot of grass below the Eiffel Tower in Paris to protest the insufficiency of a new government aid package to their ailing industry.

French officials had announced on Nov. 7 that they were preparing an aid program that would include tax relief to farmers. “This plan will offer a quick and concrete response to current difficulties through reductions in financial and social charges and exceptional measures for sheep breeders,” the farm ministry asserted in a statement.

It was hoped that the new assistance would halt protests by frustrated farmers who have been demonstrating regularly outside of public buildings and supermarkets. “We always foot the bill. When prices are too high, we’re told it's all our fault, and when they fall, there is immediate pressure on manufacturers who pass this on straightaway to producers,” Jean-Michel Lemetayer, president of France’s largest farm union, said before the aid package was published.

The French government announced the details of the plan on Nov. 12, promising French farmers 250 million euros, and earmarking 50 million euros of that sum for sheep breeders.

But sheep breeders feel that the financial aid package does not go far enough. Serge Preveraud, president of the French sheep breeders union FNO, told Reuters, “It’s a first step, but it doesn't meet our needs."

French sheep farmers make about 8,000 euros (about $6,400) a year. “We now live below the poverty line,” said Jean-Baptiste Seib, a breeder who owns 600 sheep.

The French farm ministry anticipates that sheep farmers’ incomes will fall by 15 percent this year—after falling by 32 percent last year. The rise of oil, fertilizer and feed are largely to blame, according to the ministry.
One sheep breeder told a cameraman at the Eiffel Tower demonstration, “Look here, film this one, it’s the last one, soon you won’t see any, they are dying, farmers are dying, everyone will vanish, you’ll have to go 20,000 kilometers away to get them if it keeps on going like this.” Farmers from other European countries demonstrated their support by joining the protest.

Related Topic: French farmers subsidized heavily by E.U.

A 2005 report indicated that three times as many French farmers received subsidies from the European Union than those from any other European country. However, funds were distributed primarily to large-scale farmers. Gerard Durand, from the farming union Confederation Paysanne, explained that small-scale farmers have grown impatient because the largest, wealthiest farmers receive the majority of the funding. “In France there is no transparency about aid,” he said, “because they know that if details of how the money is distributed was published tomorrow nobody would continue to pay for it.”

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