Threat of beef and pork price-fixing probe hangs over France

By Alan Osborn

- Last updated on GMT

The European Commission may investigate the French pork and beef markets for price-fixing
The European Commission may investigate the French pork and beef markets for price-fixing

Related tags: European union, Beef, Pork

The European Commission is making preliminary inquiries to determine whether a full-blown investigation into alleged price-fixing in the French pork and beef markets is justified. 

A spokeswoman for the Commission’s competition directorate general said it had received complaints and was investigating.

Reports in French media have noted that Commission officials have been quizzing companies, officials and executives who attended crisis talks organised by France’s Ministry of Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry last summer (2015) to consider the financial predicament of French livestock farmers. The participants included farmers’ groups, food processors and supermarkets.

Brussels is expected to assess whether any agreements on pricing and supply made at the meetings have broken EU commercial competition laws. Major fines could follow, if the Commission thinks laws have been breached.

‘Social dumping’ affects price

A spokesman for Culture Viande, a new organisation composed of the former national meat industry union (SNIV - Société Nationale de l’Industrie des Viandes) and the country’s pork industry group (SNCP - Syndicat National du Commerce du Porc) would not comment to GlobalMeatNews​ on the ongoing inquiry, but noted that prices were depressed for a number of reasons.

“People are eating less and less meat – that’s the new way of life now in the European Union,” said the official. “But there is also the over-production of meat in Germany and a kind of social dumping which has affected sales and prices in France.”

Another major factor is Russia’s ban on food exports from the EU in retaliation for sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine crisis. “So consumption in France is falling and there is over-supply of meat, and that’s why prices are depressed,” he continued.

No violation of EU law

Dirk Dobbelaere, secretary general of the Centre de Liaison des Industries Transformatrices de Viandes de l’Union Européene (CLITRAVI) – the European association for the meat processing industry, told GlobalMeatNews​ that none of his members were at the meetings in France.

“We don’t have a view on that and it’s a bit outside the scope of our activities. But if it’s true that there’s been price-fixing, it all depends on where the price-fixing starts and where it ends,”​ he said.

The meetings last summer in France certainly seemed to result in a round of higher prices within France, with financial reports suggesting they settled at €1.40 (US$D1.53) per kilogramme of pork – which is considered the break-even level for farmers – and that there was an increase of €0.20 (US$0.22) per kilogramme for beef. Earlier in 2015, market conditions had forced pork prices in France down to €1.00 (US$1.09) a kilogramme.

France’s Fédération Nationale des Syndicats d’Exploitants Agricoles (FNSEA), the national federation of local farm unions, said there had been no violation of EU competition rules. FNSEA vice-president Henri Brichart said: “There is a difference between indicating price levels that cover production costs, and entering price agreements.”​ Despite the reports, a spokesperson for the French Ministry of Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry said it had not yet been contacted by the European Commission.

The latest Brussels intervention comes after a year of sporadic unrest in French farming circles. Protests over low prices have forced the government to intervene to bring farmers, food processors and retailers together in talks to achieve a healthier pricing structure. However, no lasting agreements have been achieved so far.

Related topics: Meat

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