French farmers on hunger strike to protect water

Farmers in Brittany are staging hunger strikes against EU subsidies which they say encourage intensive, water-polluting agriculture, with protests now set to spread across France.

EU subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy favour pesticide and fertiliser-intensive crops such as corn at the expense of environmentally friendly pasture, say the Breton farmers who are leading the protest. Fertiliser-induced algal blooms and pesticide runoff polluting rivers, lakes and groundwater are some of their concerns.

Gérard Durand, a spokesman for the Confederation Paysanne (CP), one of the organisations behind the protests, told edie: “The European Union says that we should go towards multi-functional agriculture that protects natural resources, but it is farmers practicing the most intensive types of agriculture who will get the highest subsidies under this policy.

“In terms of water quality, France is already one of the countries using the highest levels of pesticide,” he added.

Organisations including the Confederation Paysanne and local organic farmers’ associations have been carrying out weekly hunger strikes lasting two days each since 8 September, with the action planned to spread to neighbouring departments.

“Our objective is to have 5-8 people who will strike in most departments, and when the CAP subsidies come in there will be a large-scale national movement to denounce the injustice of these subsidies,” said Gerard Durand.

The protests were brought on by a recent decision by the French government to further raise the subsidies given to large-scale, intensive farms and afford “next to nothing” to small-scale producers growing grass to feed animals for milk and meat production.

While CAP subsidies are determined on the European level, each country decides how to distribute them among its own farmers. The French government has decided to keep the distribution as it was in the past – thus further exaggerating what the CP calls a “massive injustice” between large-scale and small-scale producers.

Lobbies pushing the interests of large-scale food producers and supermarkets have had an important role to play in this decision, the Confederation Paysanne believes.

“The bigger a venture a farmer was running in the past, the more intensive their agricultural practices were, the more subsidies they will now receive. That’s what we are denouncing,” Gérard Durand said.

The hunger strikers “want to protect not their personal interests, but the thousands of small and medium-scale farmers who have chosen sustainable agriculture, so that they are treated at least in the same way as intensive farmers, who benefit from much higher levels of subsidies,” according to the Confederation Paysanne.

Goska Romanowicz

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