Supermarkets squeeze small farmers while ripping off consumers to fill the pockets of shareholders and pay huge salaries to executives. It is a familiar story. In France last week, unions and the Communist Party, were out in town squares and public places as part of a campaign to fight back.
In Paris and in 25 suburban towns in the surrounding region people could buy direct from farmers from the north west Lot-et-Garonne region. It wasn’t the first such initiative but – spurred by soaring shop and supermarket bills – this year it was a huge success.
For farmers union Modef it was about the excessive margins made by supermarkets. Last Thursday locals could by tomatoes at “a fair price” of Euros 1.70 a kilo instead of the Euros 3 price ticket in a supermarket; nectarines were on sale at Euros 2.20 per kilo instead of the supermarket price of Euros 4.
Altogether the farmers aimed to sell around 50 tonnes of fruit and veg, with 17 tonnes for the capital and the rest for towns in the Parisian region. Just after 9am it was already an ‘incredible’ success, with 100 metre queues in the Place de la Bastille in central Paris.
Raymond Girardi from the union said that farmers knew that a kilo of tomatoes cost 75 centimes to produce but if supermarkets were offered foreign tomatoes at 50 centimes they would force the French farmer to accept less or lose a buyer.
He added: ‘Prices have soared, but who has profited from the rise? Between 2012 and 2013, the price of a tomato paid to producers has fallen by 10%, for example.’
Now Modef wants farmers to group themselves better to organise more direct sales and bypass supermarkets.
Fruit and veg prices have soared this year after the poor spring, with fruit up an average 14% and vegetables up 17%. A family with two children over ten years of age has to shell out 146 euros per month in order to follow the WHO recommendations, according to Rural Families of France. For a couple without children eating healthy costs 76 euros.
No wonder that only 11% of French say they eat enough fruit and vegetables. Forty three percent say they are restricting purchases of these healthy foods because of prices, according to the National Institute for Prevention and Education.
Assisting with the initiative, bringing healthy, affordable and locally made food to working class neighbourhoods, was the local communist party. ‘Supermarkets inflate margins despite massive imports. Producers are struggling to pay for their labour. The official recommendation to eat five pieces of fruit and vegetables a day is in vain for nearly one in two French people, said
Fabien Guillaud-Bataille, leader of the communists in the Val-de-Marne region.
‘Faced with continued increases in prices of fruits and vegetables, we want to bring producers and consumers together. Primarily as a way to better understand the current system, that the intermediaries are the only beneficiaries.
‘Producers are forced to sell at prices that do not allow them live, while supermarkets make unacceptable hikes in prices for consumers, including residents of working class neighborhoods. By organising this direct selling, we are showing that there are alternatives.’
‘This contact also raises awareness. In talking with farmers, inhabitants of Ile-de-France will realize that it is all workers, regardless of their position in the chain, which are affected by this capitalist system of organising commerce. And that only solidarity will overcome this injustice.’
Carrefour, the largest supermarket in France and second largest in the world, pays its chief executive 1.5 million euros annually. Profits trebled in the year to March 2013 to 1.23 billion euros.