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French farmers block refineries, fuel depots over palm oil imports

13 June 2018

A total of 16 sites were blocked on Monday afternoon, France's largest farm union FNSEA (National Federation of Agricultural Holders' Unions) said on Twitter.

The move is aimed at reducing the use of palm oil blamed for causing deforestation in southeast Asia, he said.

French farmers were blocking access to oil depots and at least three refineries using tonnes of onions, wood and rubble on Monday as part of a three-day protest over plans to allow Total to use palm oil at a biofuel plant.

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The blockade has further worsened relations between the biggest agricultural sector of any European Union country and the government of President Emmanuel Macron.

The protests that hit 18 sites in France were triggered by France's decision to allow oil and gas major Total to use imported palm oil at a biofuel plant, a cheaper alternative to biodiesel made from locally produced oilseed crops.

According to Deutsche Welle, they are also anxious about emerging competition, as local biofuel producers might want to go over to a cheaper palm oil from overseas instead of buying locally produced and more expensive rapeseed oil.

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Fuel shortages were not expected as a result of the blockade, given France's network of emergency fuel reserves and in the absence to date of sympathy action by fuel sector workers. But they were stunned when the EU Commission unveiled plans for the new EU budget from 2012-2017 that envisages cuts to the bloc's lavish farm subsidies.

The number of French farms decreased by 7 percent previous year and their bankruptcies rose by the proportion in France as a whole despite economy growth, according to the national statistical institute INSEE.

"In South America the average cattle ranch has 24,000 cows, while in France we have on average just 80 - and yet we're always being told to be more environmentally friendly", said Christiane Lambert, president of the FNSEA farmers' union, France's biggest. Feeling less and less represented by mainstream politicians, about one-third of them already voted for far-right leader Marine Le Pen in last year's presidential elections.

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French farmers block refineries, fuel depots over palm oil imports