Macron described agriculture as a “key to our future” but added that the sector is at a “crossroads”, with farm incomes under pressure due to the unfair distribution of value down the supply chain.
Detailing his policy priorities for the French agri-food sector during a speech in Saint-Genès-Champanelle, Macron argued that “strategic orientations” and “major reorganisations” are needed to safeguard the long-term outlook of food production in France.
Re-balancing power in the supply chain
In a warning shot across the bows of branded food makers and retailers, Macron threatened to name and shame brands that “do not change their practices” to ensure “the right price [is] paid to farmers”.
A bill that aims to address a perceived imbalance of power in the supply chain was presented to the Cabinet by France’s Minister for Food and Agriculture Stéphane Travert today (31 January). The legislation is the product of an extensive consultation process with the food sector that formed part of the government’s review of the food industry, Etats Généraux de l’Alimentation (EGA).
The EGA’s aim is to provide farmers with a fair price for their produce while also ensuring French consumer have access to a healthy, sustainable and safe food supply.
On the importance of food safety, Macron dealt specifically with the recent salmonella outbreak linked to infant formula produced by French dairy manufacturer Lactalis. "The Lactalis case reminds us that consumer safety comes first. There can be no state tolerance for operators who do not abide by the rules."
In order to strengthen the hand of French farmers in negotiations with food makers and retailers, the bill – which will not come into effect until next year – will see producers proposing contractual terms, while prices should be determined by production and market cost indicators. It also includes provision for the introduction of re-negotiation clauses for farmers and a stronger mediation service.
The legislation also proposes two highly-anticipated measures to determine retail pricing: namely lifting suggested retail prices by 10% and limiting price promotions.
The EGA bill has been described as the “first brick” of a more comprehensive road-map focusing on food policy to 2022.
Achieving ‘sovereignty’ in an open market
Macron has called for the development of a strategy that will help France become more self-sufficient in food production.
As part of this drive for “sovereignty” the President expressed an ambition to reduce France’s reliance on imported plant proteins, such as soy.
“We need to strengthen plant protein production and have a real protein strategy,” Macron argued. "France is 40% dependent on imported GMO soybeans and 60% on nitrogen fertilisers: we therefore have no real sovereignty."
However, the free marketeer also insisted that appropriately “organised” free trade agreements are “not a danger” to France’s agri-food producers. “We must not be afraid of this openness but organise to be the winners sector by sector.”
While calling for a re-evaluation of the Common Agricultural Policy, which Macron characterised as “too complex”, the President also said that the “battle for openness” will be “won by and with Europe”.
Macron pointed to the free trade agreement between Europe and Japan as benefiting the agricultural sector and suggested that the interests of the sector must also be protected during ongoing talks over a free trade agreement with Latin American block Mercosur.
Fight for the planet
Macron’s third battleground is that of sustainability. The French president singled out climate as a key issue and stressed that the agricultural sector is both a contributor to and “the first victims of” climate change.
On soil erosion – which the use of chemical fertilisers exasperates – Macron noted “nearly 20%” of French soils “present erosion risks”. He stressed that France was “right” to “awaken” Europe to the use of controversial fertiliser glyphosate.
The European Commission agreed to extend the license of glyphosate for a reduced five year term last November in a tightly contested battle. However, national governments including Germany are considering introducing national restrictions.
In France, Macron confirmed a three-year deadline for the ban of glyphosate. However, he did imply that there could be some scope for flexibility to allow for the conversion of agriculture on sloping land. “There will be no ban if there is no alternative” he suggested but also insisted “solutions exist” for 90% of cultivated land. Macron added that the government will “mobilise research” to find actionable solutions for the remaining 10%.