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Friday, 12 June 2009

News from the French Press

“The State must police distribution companies”

From La libération

While the French National Federation of Farmers' Unions plans to block supermarket supply entrances in order to protest the profit margins of mass distributors (particularly on milk and dairy products), an interview with Dominique Barrau, assistant secretary general of the agricultural labor association, aids in our analysis of the motives of the opposition.

What is the shape that you’re going to give to your protest?

There will be between one and two blocked sites per region for 48 hours.  The Grand-Ouest[1] began on Sunday, and Auvergne[2] yesterday at noon.  The rest kick off this evening or later tonight.  It’ll come down to a blockade, pure and simple.  In Paca[3] and Languedoc-Roussillon[4], there will be local forums to see how we can let fresh products, such as fruits and vegetables, go by. 

What is the cause of your dissatisfaction?

You have to go back to December to understand the situation.  We had a lot of long debates trying to institute the Economical Modernization Law, and after the clause authorizing negotiability of general selling conditions was added, we knew that this would impact our industry.  We feared that this clause did not curb distributors from putting pressure on suppliers, who in turn put pressure on producers.  So on January 5th, with the Young Farmers, we agreed that rather than stating that we object to this law, we would put ourselves in the situation of demonstrating accountability.  The monitoring center for prices and profit margins [a government commission], created on November 12, was put into action around February or March.  We also opened negotiations with the food industry and the Federal Union of Consumers.             

What happened?

At meetings with the monitoring center, which were supposed to bring together producers, transformers, and distributers, either the transformers or distributers never showed up.  It was impossible to get them all in the same room with each other.  Since the end of April, the problem of the cost of milk has taken precedence.  We decided that we would act once the cost of milk had settled.

What do you think of the accusations from the Agricultural Union, according to which you are leading “an operation of disinformation” in order for you to “exonerate yourself from signing the agreement on the price of milk”?

We’re getting a lot of negative criticism.  But we’re calm.  The Agricultural Union must certainly have realized that we had numerous cases and files under review, and that our different commissions work on multiple files.  Personally, I don’t think we jumped quickly enough on this issue.

What do you expect to gain from your demonstrations?

To demonstrate that we are capable of a blockade.  In concrete terms, we have two goals.  The first: a political and administrative decision that will send agents from the General Directorate for Fair Trading, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control to the transformers to take a precise and hands-on approach to determining practical price points and realistic profit margins.  When we’ve accomplished that, we propose taking 5 or 6 popular food products and placing their profit margins under strict supervision.  When a government official decided to reduce highway speeds, he implemented an automatic radar system.  Accidents decreased by 30%.  A transformer cannot then otherwise say that he was not compliant.  Then we must dare to put our nose into the business of the distributers.

So it’s them you have it in for, more than the transformers?

In the days following the sharp increase in the price of milk, the distribution companies demanded a supplementary rebate from the producers.  The distributers said, “I want to be able to operate at low cost, but still retain my margin of 25%.”  This was an action that blatantly disregarded producers and the food industry in general.

What do you ask of the government?

The State must police distribution companies.  They aren’t capable of regulating themselves, and virtue is not one of their primary qualities.  In the interest of full disclosure, in the financial sense, we have absolutely no confidence in them.

Interview conducted, condensed, and edited by Philippe Brochen.

Translated and edited by Dara Kagan.


[1] Agricultural area in the west of France.

[2] Region in southern France.

[3] Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, southwestern France.

[4] Southern France, dominated by vineyards.

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