'Promise kept': Does France’s new Agriculture Bill live up to the hype?

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

France's Agriculture Bill passes through Parliament ©iStock
France's Agriculture Bill passes through Parliament ©iStock
The French government promised sweeping reform of the food supply chain from farm-to-fork in a bid to empower farmers and small suppliers through its Agriculture Bill. The legislation has secured the backing of Parliament - but will it live up to the hype?

The French Agriculture Bill was the result of a lengthy consultation process with the food industry, Etats Généraux de l’Alimentation (EGA), that put the spotlight firmly on supply chain relationships and brought the balance of power between farmers, food manufacturers, retailers and consumers into sharp relief.

The EGA consultation process was launched in July 2017, bringing together all stakeholders in the supply chain, from farmers to retailers, NGOs to regulators.

The outcome – the Agriculture Bill - purportedly aims to deliver on two major objectives in order to build a fairer more sustainable food system.

Through the Bill, French legislators led by Emmanuel Macron and his governing La République En Marche! (LaREM) party, hope to deliver “fairer remuneration for farmers”​ with the “reversal of price constriction”​. It is also hoped that the legislation will support an agricultural model that will meet the expectations of consumers in terms of quality and sustainable food.

‘An ambitious transition’

“Promise kept”​, the authorities said yesterday (2 October) after the bill passed through Parliament with 227 MPs voting in favour and 136 against.

The Agriculture Bill, its proponents claim, places more power in the hands of farmers, who will have a greater say in contractual terms and pricing based on the cost of production. Pricing will be set out by inter-professional organisations and retailers will be prohibited from selling products for below the cost to the supplier plus a margin of 10%. Discounting will be capped at 34% the value of a product.

The new regulation will also promote local products, organic farming practices and higher animal welfare. It will ban the addition of any new or redeveloped farm for caged laying hens, support experiments with video surveillance in slaughterhouses, and up penalties for animal welfare abuses.

The document sets out the objective of French public catering procurement to include 50% local products, of which 20% are organic, by 2022. Regulators also want 15% of France’s farmland to be certified organic by 2022.
According to Jean-Baptiste Moreau, rapporteur of the bill: "The EGA law will enter into force for the next agricultural trade negotiations for 2019. Faced with the urgency that affects the agricultural world, it is indeed imperative that they apply as soon as possible.

“It is up to all of us now to seize the tools we have built to apply it effectively in the fields, in cooperatives, in agricultural trading boxes and in supermarkets."

Does it deliver?

For Monique Limon, of LaREM, the bill lives up to the expectations of farmers and SMEs. "This bill meets the strong expectations of the agricultural world… finally allow[ing] farmers to live with dignity from their work. It also takes into account consumer aspirations for animal welfare, for healthier products, and engages our agricultural model in an ambitious transition."

Hpwever, the French Senate has already rejected the bill, insisting that it does not go far enough to protect the interests of farmers.

Responding to the passage of the bill, French farmers’ union FNSEA argued that “despite the shortcomings”​ it was best to implement the EGA now to curb the worst excesses of the price war raging in French supermarkets.

Notwithstanding the “disappointing”​ overall outcome, the FNSEA welcomed the provisions related to pricing and discounting in particular. “This should ease the pressures exerted during trade negotiations on agricultural products,”​ FNSEA said in a statement.

While France’s farmers may be able to find some comfort in the text, the country’s small and medium sized food businesses do not, according to SME association FEEF.

The organisation stressed that it supports the objectives of the legislation but insisted raising recommended pricing will actually “weaken​” SMEs because it will push retailers towards multinational companies that can deliver “high volumes”​ because they generate greater margins.

Additionally, FEEF argued, limiting discounting might appear attractive but it will not end the price war. The policy “goes against freedom of entrepreneurship, commerce and therefore value creation”​, the trade body suggested.

For their part, France’s retailers have argued that the provisions within the Agriculture Bill will hit consumers by pushing up retail prices.

In delivering a compromise outcome, the EGA legislation has failed to win the full endorsement of any of the actors in France's food supply chain. Time will tell whether it is effective in delivering the supply chain transformation it's political backers hope to spark. 

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