French pig farmers joined protests despite excellent 2023

pig farmers protests
Farmers lift the blockade on A6 motorway in Chilly Mazarin, south of Paris, France. Photo: ANP

Although 2023 has been quite a good year for pig farmers in France, they still joined the massive protest movements of the last few weeks.

They came with their tractors to the blockades of major motorways and even the city of Paris, spread manure and straw at supermarkets, and drove with their massive vehicles through city centers all over the country.

Disloyal competition

According to Inaporc, the situation in the French pig sector is far from ideal. Not only does the number of pig farmers steadily decrease, there are also less and less abattoirs to slaughter the animals. Pig farmers complain about the ‘disloyal competition’ from their colleagues in other European countries too. Moreover, a number of large French pork producers like Fleury Michon and Cooperl recently reported serious financial and other problems.

Pig slaugher and production decline

Like elsewhere in Europe, the slaughter numbers of pigs and the production of pork and pork products are in decline. In 2023, 21.88 million pigs were slaughtered, 4.8% less than in the previous year, the French agricultural statistics service Agreste reports. In the month of December, the fall increased to 7,8% with 1.78 million animals slaughtered. That December figure was also 6.5 % lower than the average for that month over the years 2018 – 2022. Last year, the French pig price reached a height of € 2.51/kilo (entrée abattoir) but that subsequently went down to € 1.97/kilo in the last month of the year.

Record number of companies into insolvency

Philippe Bizien, the recently appointed new President of Inaporc, is a worried man. “ln 3 years’ time we have lost 10% of the pig holdings in France. That has never happened before. Last year, a record 27 pig companies went into insolvency. At the moment, we still have some 10,000 holdings but 34% of those farmers are 55 years or older. There are hardly any young people entering pig farming. It is increasingly difficult to expand our businesses due to the real guerilla of the anti-livestock movement, while the constant flow of new rules and regulations strangle us as much as all the other farmers.”

French pork producers

For French pork producers, things do not seem to be rosy either. Market leader Fleury Michon reported over the first half of 2023 a net profit of € 1.2 million on a turnover of € 422.3 million, a margin of a meagre 0.2%. Volumes in France declined slightly, although the company could maintain its market share.

Cooperl, the Brittany based largest pork cooperative with over 3.000 members and a turnover of € 2.79 billion (2022), last September reported problems in its transformation business. “The company has been confronted with strong inflation pressure which cannot be recuperated fully because of the economic restrictions of the costs of living,” it said in an announcement. Cooperl announced a restructuring plan with the possible closure of 2 of its plants this year. A painful detail: Cooperl bought those 2 factories only in 2017 from then insolvent Turenne-Lafayette.

France self-sufficient in pork

Inaporc stresses that pork is the only kind of meat where France still is self-sufficient. In order to maintain that position, the organisation, in a response to the recent protest movement, published a manifest about its demands. The main action points are:

  • “Fighting the undermining of standards, a battle that is indispensable to avoid a further loss of our competition power compared to other European countries;

  • a better regulation of the labelling of meat products; higher tax reliefs for the transfer of farms or other agricultural assets;

  • a law to avoid that neighbours of farms abuse their right to object to an expansion of a pig holding;

  • recognising farming as a profession under stress, in order to make it easier to attract workers.”

Inaporc says ‘it will wait eagerly so see if and when those demands will be met, implying that the tractors will be kept ready in case they will be needed again. “The main problems of the sector are a simplification of rules and procedures to make doing business easier and enable us to modernize and enlarge our farms. That also is urgent because of the increasing attention in society for animal welfare and environmental issues. Later this year, we will publish the engagements of the sector and our members for all the roads towards durability in 2035.”

Ruud Peijs International Journalist
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