Factory farming is on the rise in France, union says

Philippe Huguen, AFP I A farmer places a flier next to a calf during a protest called by the Confédération Paysanne (Farmer's Confederation) against a project to create a large-scale dairy farm nicknamed the "1000 cows" in northern France.

Known for its agricultural traditions, France is seeing a rise in factory farming, union sources say, a trend that runs contrary to its hopes of becoming an environmental leader ahead of hosting the UN’s climate change summit later this year.


French President Francois Hollande, who hopes to include agriculture in the climate change discussion, is looking to have France seen as a leader in ecological agriculture ahead of hosting the UN Sustainable Innovation Forum in Paris from December 7-8.

For the past 50 years, France has held an annual agricultural fair called the Salon de l’Agriculture. This year’s events, held at the Porte de Versailles in Paris, will begin on Saturday and last more than a week. In anticipation Hollande, who will inaugurate the show on its opening day, has said that one of the primary goals of this year’s fair is to promote sustainable ecology.

“We won’t get far if we don’t reconcile the economy with ecology,” Hollande said in an interview with “Actuagri”, the press agency of France’s primary agricultural union, the FNSEA.

“The challenge is to leverage science and technology to preserve and promote our finite resources, and to use less harmful products. This is the definition of ecological agriculture,” he said.

But the Confederation Paysanne (Farmer's Confederation), a smaller agricultural union, released a map on Thursday highlighting 29 industrial farms that are either already operational or slated to open. These include farms that house thousands of animals at a time. The industrial farms, some of which are partially publically funded, aren’t only for animals but for vegetables as well, including a soil-less greenhouse tomato farm of 40 hectares (98 acres).

The union, which says it supports “diversified agriculture”, said the recent increase in industrial farming shows the French government’s disregard of both small farmers and sustainable agriculture.

“There is a real intention to deliver our business into industrial hands, which are more concerned with their market share than with employment, food or the environment,” said the union in an article released along with the map.

'No justification' for factory farms

The French minister of agriculture, Stéphane le Foll, recently said that industrial farms are necessary to provide “accessible” food.

“Those who say that we can do without industrial agriculture are lying to themselves,” said le Foll.

“We know that we need an agribusiness industry, and we know that to produce a certain number of food products we need industrial production for the food to be accessible.”

Laurent Pinatel, the spokesperson for Confederation Paysanne, says that the country doesn’t have to resort to industrial production to provide accessible food for all socioeconomic levels.

“Everyone should have the right to good-quality food,” said Pinatel, in an interview with FRANCE 24.

“There is no justification for producing food on factory farms.”

But not everybody agrees. Dominique Barrau, the secretary general of the FNSEA agricultural union, says that there is "room or everyone" in the agricultural sector and that he opposes the use of the term "factory farm".

"It's a different method of production, one that can reduce the drudgery of manual labour," said Barrau in an interview with FRANCE 24.

He also says that the average size of a farm in France, about 56 hectares (138 acres), remains well below European standards.

The UN climate summit could provide a positive diplomatic push for the French president, who continues to struggle in his domestic approval ratings. Agriculture is a major issue in France, and politicians are constantly vying for the votes of residents in rural France, many of whom are farmers.

In the spirit of pursuing “green” policies, the French government recently passed a set of measures known as the law on the “future of agriculture, food and forestry”, which aims to promote economically efficient agriculture that is also sustainable.

In another apparent win for France’s moves toward sustainability, the country also recently surpassed Germany to become the third-largest producer of organic products in the European Union.

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