French farmers block refineries, fuel depots

View of the entrance at the Total refinery in La Mede France 23 February 2010

Dozens of French farmers blocked access to 13 refineries across the country on Monday to protest plans to import palm oil for use in biofuels, a move they denounce as unfair competition which jeopardises their livelihood.

The palm oil authorization has soured already-fragile relations between the European Union's biggest farm sector and the government of President Emmanuel Macron.

The minister called on angry protesters to sit for negotiations to reach "adequate solutions", insisting that the government would not back down on its decision to allow energy giant Total to import palm oil at a biofuel plant in La Mede, southeastern France.

French farmers began a blockade of oil refineries and fuel depots on Sunday evening over the decision which has fanned farmer discontent.

French authorities last month gave Total permission to use palm oil as a feedstock at its La Mede biofuel refinery in southern France, infuriating farmers who grow crops such as rapeseed.

No impact from farmers' blockade on refinery operations - Total
French farmers start refinery blockade over palm oil imports

Oil and gas major Total said on Tuesday that 3.5 per cent of its petrol stations in France had run out of fuel on the second day of the blockade disrupted distribution.

The company stressed though that no more than 50 percent of raw material used at the facility would be imported palm oil, and that all suppliers were certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

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.

"We're going to ask our members to suspend with immediate effect their blockade of the different sites", Jeremy Decerle, leader of the FNSEA's youth-wing, told reporters.

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