French sheep breeders take flocks to Eiffel Tower

Several hundred French breeders brought sheep to graze near the Eiffel Tower on Nov. 13 to protest what they say is insufficient aid to help revive a sector endangered by surging costs and low selling prices.

Sheep farmers say a 250-million-euro (US$312 million) government plan unveiled Nov. 12 to boost falling farm income, including 50 million euros for sheep breeders, did not go far enough.

“It’s a first step, but it doesn’t meet our needs,” Serge Preveraud, president of French sheep breeders union FNO, told Reuters above the peal of mountain bells.

Between 700 and 800 breeders were at the protest, bringing with them just over 100 sheep.

Like other farmers, sheep breeders said they were being squeezed by rising costs for fertilizers, feed and fuel, and increased price pressure from retailers.

Nicolas Fanjat, a 27-year-old farmer dressed in a black shepherd’s cloak, said breeders were in a critical situation.

“Revenue isn’t coming in anymore and costs like fuel have surged,” he said, adding that he sold his lamb at five euros per kilogram when it cost him eight – and it was later sold at more than 15 euros in supermarkets.

France’s Farm Ministry said sheep breeders’ incomes, which fell by 32 per cent last year, would shed 15 per cent in 2008, mainly linked to the rise in animal feed and high energy costs.

The ministry pegged price rises in 2008 of 30 per cent for oil products, 25 per cent for fertilizers and 15 per cent for animal feed. At the same time lamb prices paid to producers was stable as they faced tough competition from massive imports.

Official data shows that French sheep breeders earn around 8,000 euros a year on average.

The French government already introduced emergency support measures for sheep breeders worth 17 million this year as well as 15 million euros in 2007.

France receives about 10 billion euros in European aid each year but sheep breeders say they get fewer payments than other farm sectors, notably cattle.

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