Hundreds of tractors rolled into Paris on Thursday as farmers tried to clog up the capital's roads in protest at falling food prices.
Farmers on their tractors have been descending — slowly — on the capital from all corners of France, angry over the falling food prices which they blame on foreign competition, Russian sanctions, and a raw deal from local supermarkets and distributors.
It has taken many of them a week to reach the capital, travelling at an average speed of 35 kilometres (22 miles) an hour.
“What we're asking for today is three or four centimes more on a burger,” said Xavier Beulin, head of France's leading farmers' union FNSEA, told iTele.
The first tractors to arrive came from the northwestern region of Brittany, a major producer of milk and pork.
Leading farmers' union FNSEA said they were expecting 1,733 tractors as well as dozens of cars and buses carrying up to 5,000 farmers. Police said they had counted more than 1,300 tractors on the roads into Paris.
“There are not many traffic jams caused by the protesters. It's limited,” said a spokesman for the traffic information centre.
The protest comes after months of unrest as farmers in the dairy and meat industries become increasingly desperate in the face of plummeting food prices which they blame on foreign competition, as well as supermarkets and distributors.
“We're at our wits' end,” said Sebastien Louzaouen, a member of the Young Farmers' Union, which represents agricultural workers aged 35 and under.
“If we show that we can blockade Paris, maybe it will prod the government into action. My apologies to the Parisians, but the farmers are coming.”
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Dimitri Ducher, 29, a pig farmer from Brittany told L'Express news site: “We are not giving up. I think the Parisians will support us.”
Xavier Beulin, head of the FNSEA union, which is leading the protests, told France info Radio: “Our goal is to show the government that we are a very determined group.”
During the summer, protesting farmers around the country dumped manure in cities, blocked access to roads and motorways and prevented tourists from reaching the popular Mont St-Michel in northern France.
Police have advised motorists who normally travel to work by car to use public transport instead, although clearly many ignored the advice with around 60km of tail backs reported in the Paris area around at around 8am.
One of the largest convoys was on the A1 motorway to the north of the city where 400 tractors and 15 buses were heading in to Paris. The A4, A6, A10 and A13 motorways were also affected.
Farmers' unions have been negotiating with the government, which unveiled an emergency package worth 600 million euros ($680 million) in tax relief and loan guarantees in July.
But they say this is woefully inadequate, as tales of farms going under — and in the most extreme cases of suicides — hit the news.
The agriculture minister has estimated that around 10 percent of farms in France — approximately 22,000 sites — are on the brink of bankruptcy with a combined debt of one billion euros.
A delegation of some 100 farmers will go to France's lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, Thursday to hand over to lawmakers “the demands and grievances of an agricultural and rural world that is on the brink of exploding and that expects a lot from its national representatives”.