French farmers turn back trucks with foreign meat, cheese
PARIS (AP) — French farmers angry over low prices turned back hundreds of trucks at the German border on Monday, looking for cargos of foreign meat and milk products.
An Associated Press photographer at the German frontier saw farmers stopping refrigerated trucks to verify their contents on Monday, and one of the protest's organizers said 300 trucks had been turned back since the morning. Other vehicles were allowed to cross freely.
Police in France tend to avoid intervening in peaceful protests, and French President Francois Hollande on Monday said he backed the farmers and called for a high-level meeting of European agricultural officials.
"Between now and then, we will continue to pressure, so that the farmers are certain, protests or not, that we are at their side," he said.
German Agriculture Ministry spokesman Jens Urban declined to comment on the protest but said he didn't think it was leading to a total stoppage of German agricultural exports to France.
The farmers also blocked the Spanish and German border highways on Sunday as part of an ongoing protest against low prices caused by cheap imports and pressure from grocery chains that have put about 10 percent of livestock farms on the verge of bankruptcy, according to the government.
"French agriculture is suffocating and no one realizes it and no one says anything," Franck Sander, president of the main farmers' federation in the Bas-Rhin region, told France-Info radio.
The French government last week offered a 600-million euro ($654 million) agricultural plan to back loans and delay tax payments for farmers, who say that is not enough. France cannot give direct financial aid under EU rules.
A senior official with the German Farmers' Association expressed understanding for French farmers' demand for higher producer prices, but argued that their criticism of wage costs in Germany is no longer justified. Germany introduced a national minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($9.3) an hour this year, which will have a negative impact on farming, deputy general secretary Udo Hemmerling told N24 television.
German food and agriculture exports to France last year totaled 5.6 billion euros, while Germany imported 6 billion euros worth of French such products.
Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.