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Tuesday, 27 August 2013 00:00

Fighting for a fair price for fruit and veg

by Tom Gill

How communists are helping farmers bypass the big supermarkets

Supermarkets squeezing small farmers while ripping off consumers to fill the pockets of shareholders and pay huge salaries to executives.

It is a familiar story. In France last week, unions and the Communist Party were out in town squares and public places as part of a campaign to fight back.

In Paris and in 25 suburban towns in the surrounding region farmers from the north-west Lot-et-Garonne region gathered to sell directly to the public. It wasn't the first such initiative but this year it was a huge success - no doubt due to soaring shop and supermarket bills.

For farmers union Modef the project was about the excessive margins made by supermarkets. Last Thursday locals could by tomatoes at "a fair price," €1.70 (£1.45) a kilo instead of the €3 (£2.60) price ticket in a supermarket. Nectarines were on sale at €2.20 (£1.90) per kilo instead of €4 (£3.40).

Altogether the farmers aimed to sell around 50 tons of fruit and veg, with 17 tons for the capital and the rest for towns in the Parisian region.

Just after 9am it had already been deemed an "incredible" success, with 100-metre queues in the Place de la Bastille in central Paris.

Modef's Raymond Girardi said a kilo of tomatoes cost 75 centimes (65p) to produce, but supermarkets were often able to force them to accept less.

If foreign tomatoes were available at 50 centimes (40p), for example, the supermarket could demand that farmers accept prices below the production cost or lose a buyer.

"Prices have soared, but who has profited from the rise?" he asked. "Between 2012 and 2013, the price of a tomato paid to producers has fallen by 10 per cent."

Now Modef wants farmers to group themselves better to organise more direct sales and bypass supermarkets.

Fruit and veg prices have soared in France this year after the poor spring, with fruit up an average 14 per cent and vegetables up 17 per cent.

A family with two children over 10 years of age has to shell out €146 (£125) per month in order to follow the WHO recommendations on healthy eating, according to Rural Families of France. For a couple without children eating healthy costs €76 (£65).

No wonder that only 11 per cent of French people say they eat enough fruit and vegetables.

Forty-three per cent say they are restricting purchases of these healthy foods because of prices, according to the National Institute for Prevention and Education.

Assisting with the initiative, bringing healthy, affordable and locally made food to working-class neighbourhoods, was the local Communist Party.

"Supermarkets inflate margins despite massive imports. Producers are struggling to pay for their labour. The official recommendation to eat five pieces of fruit and vegetables a day is in vain for nearly one in two French people," said Fabien Guillaud-Bataille, leader of the communists in the Val-de-Marne region.

"Faced with continued increases in prices of fruits and vegetables, we want to bring producers and consumers together. Primarily as a way to better understand the current system, that the intermediaries are the only beneficiaries.

"Producers are forced to sell at prices that do not allow them to make a living, while supermarkets make unacceptable hikes in prices for consumers, including residents of working-class neighbourhoods. By organising this direct selling, we are showing that there are alternatives.

"This contact also raises awareness. In talking with farmers, inhabitants of Ile-de-France will realise that it is all workers, regardless of their position in the chain, which are affected by this capitalist system of organising commerce. And that only solidarity will overcome this injustice."

Carrefour, the largest supermarket in France and second-largest in the world, pays its chief executive €1.5 million (£1.3m) annually. Profits trebled in the year to March 2013 to €1.23 billion (£1.06bn).

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