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Is France heading towards a food crisis?

French farmers use a lot of Ukrainian and Russian cereal crops for animal feed. As a result consumers across the country are facing rising food costs. We take a look at how bad things could get.

A French farmer harvests wheat.
A French farmer harvests wheat. The government wants to increase production to deal with rising food prices caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron warned of “an unprecedented food crisis” following Thursday’s NATO summit in Brussels. 

“The war in Ukraine makes it impossible to sow [seeds] as much is needed and is creating a situation that will be even worse in 12-18 months. This situation will create a food crisis and serious humanitarian situations in many countries, surely with massive political consequences,” he said. 

Ukraine is the world’s fifth largest wheat producer. Russia is the largest. Ukraine also exports more maize and sunflower seeds to the EU than any other country. 

After the European Union, the biggest agricultural export markets for Ukraine are China, India, Egypt and Turkey. Lebanon imports about 90 percent of its wheat from Ukraine. Egypt imports close to 80 percent of all cereal crops from Ukraine. 

The UN says that the invasion of Ukraine, combined with rising fuel prices, could push global food prices up by 8-20 percent on average. 

So could France face a food shortage? 

France’s Agriculture minister Julien Denormandie, speaking at the unveiling of PM Jean Castex’s plan to deal with the spiralling cost of living, had some reassuring words: “There is no risk of food shortages in France. Our agriculture and our food chain is strong, solid and sovereign.” 

Experts agree that it is unlikely that France will face a food shortage as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Speaking on Europe 1 Bruno Parmentier, a food and agriculture specialist, explained that France’s status as a major agricultural producer protected it. 

“We only eat about a third of our cereal crop. We eat one third of our wheat, one third goes to our animals and a third is exported, so there won’t be any problem,” he said. 

However, before we get too cheerful, if there is no question of an outright shortage, consumers in France are already seeing price rises. 

“There will be price rises, we must be lucid”, said Denormandie, during a France Inter interview earlier this month. 

In France and elsewhere, a lot of imported Russian and Ukrainian crops are used as cheap animal feed. As a result of fears over supply, this feed has become more expensive, already resulting in a knock-on effect for consumers of poultry, pork, eggs and beef. 

What is the French government doing to protect consumers? 

Cost of living consistently ranked one of the most important issues to French voters ahead of the presidential election in April. 

The government has hosted negotiations between supermarkets and producers in France in a bid to keep food prices down and help farmers survive.

It has already unveiled a €400 million package to help compensate for the cost of rising animal feed. 

The Plan Resilience announced by Prime Minister Jean Castex on March 16th targeted aid towards the worst-hit sectors – farming, fishing and haulage. 

As well as the €400m aid package for pastoral farmers, there was also help with the costs of agricultural fuel.

The plan also pointed to some longer term solutions including:

  • Diversifying the supply of agricultural goods (i.e. looking beyond Russia and Ukraine); 
  • Diversifying the supply of energy by securing gas from elsewhere and developing more sustainable sources such as biomass. Reducing overall energy consumption; 
  • Build Europe’s food sovereignty by intensifying agricultural production in France and elsewhere. 

Macron has been toying with the idea of introducing a chèque alimentaire – or a food cheque – to help poorer households buy French products, since 2020.

He recently told France Bleu that he would like to introduce the cheque should he win re-election.  

The EU Commission also announced a number of measures on March 23rd to deal with a possible food crisis. 

These include increasing production by farming on fallow land and accessing the food crisis reserve – a €500 million fund to help farmers deal with price instability. 

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