“Defending the identity of France means saving our dairy farmers”

by Natacha Polony, publicist, France


The most important challenge in the upcoming presidential elections is to ensure France’s survival by convincing the French people that each of their purchases is also a political choice.
In France the campaign for the presidential elections (23 April and 7 May 2017) has been opened, and we are already assured that it will revolve around a specific topic: the identity of the country. In the run-up to this debate, we should recall that France is a country where women are not blamed for the desire they cause; a country where individuals live and not “communities”; a country where, out of reference to dissenters and for the purpose of preserving inner peace, one does not carry one’s faith as a banner in front of oneself. All this gives the framework for an “identity”: a complex structure forged over centuries in the course of history.
Well, let us speak on the identity of France. But let’s do a real discussion. For it is noticeable, that all presidential candidates [there are up to 20] suffer from a strange hemiplegia [paralysis of one half of the body] concerning this question. Let‘s say it frankly: The splendid statements about France, it’s past, it’s cultural heritage ... are of no value if one neglects to revive the industrial, agricultural and commercial structures. Claiming that one wants to preserve the nation and adhering at the same time to a model of economic development which is dictated by the false views of free trade ideology, this can at best be called culpable incoherence. In this way internationalisation [“mondialisation”], which is a reality, is being confused with globalisation, which is a legal and cultural imperialism whose weapon is free trade.
This is probably the reason why the candidates would rather demand a new law on religious symbols than to find answers for the doomed milk producers. They have not yet understood that a France that will let deteriorate the family farms with their pastures characterising the landscape will be a France covered with factory-like large agricultural enterprises, commercial zones with large shopping centres, McDonald and other fast food chains, and no longer a country being able to offer to the world personalities like Chambord, Voltaire, Victor Hugo or Claude Monet.

The illusion of competitiveness


The milk crisis shows us how France has begun to self-destruct. On the one hand there is a company – Groupe Lactalis, number one in the world – which is so strongly conceited by its status as multinational company, that its boss, Emmanuel Besnier, considers himself too good for taking over his responsibility, and instead sends his communication commander Michel Nalet to the media. Lactalis finds it perfectly normal to gain advantages from its quasi-monopoly. He pays 25 cents for the litre of milk, despite the production costs of 39 cents, thereby realising a profit margin of 10.5% (while his competitors pay 28 or 30 cents, the Bobin cheese factory in Coulommiers even 40 cents). Let’s also note that Lactalis refuses to publish its statements of accounts. With the acquisition of the Italian company Parmalat, he had to announce at least an annual profit of 1.78 billion euro with a turnover of 17 billion. Obviously, there are economic areas that are quite successful. For example, those with factories producing tens of thousands of Camemberts every day with ... two employees.

Why are we in such a devastating situation? Because FNSEA1, the most important national umbrella trade union organisation, which has been managing the whole agricultural sector together with the ministry for more than 60 years, has thought it good in all the years to advise farmers in selling their products more and more cheaply and at the same time reducing the quality in order to “remain competitive”; because the major distributors have been calling for always cheaper prices, on the grounds that they opted for more “purchasing power” of households; because some of the politicians support this generalised competition through which our farmers – due to social constraints and special geographic requirements, which evoke better milk quality but also higher production costs – are driven into great distress.

However, there are also happy dairy farmers. Bernard Gaborit, at home in the Mayenne department, produces organic milk of excellent quality, for which consumers are also willing to pay a reasonable price. Fortunately, he is not alone. They are such people who maintain the vital identity of France. However, it is crucial that the country is committed to them. It is also crucial that the political programmes are not filled with considerations of “competitiveness” forcing us to more and more reduce the production costs and thus also the quality in order to be able to compete with other countries, even though these countries changed their agriculture into a factory, just as they transform many industrial enterprises into purely profitable hors-sol constructions, which do not take into account any borders. Unfortunately, in the publications they present to us, we are looking in vain for any reflection on the devastating effects of the major distributors or the importance of the reorientation of consumption for the domestically employed workforce.
The most important challenge of the presidential election is to secure France’s survival by convincing the French people that each of their purchases is also a political choice – that is to say to save or not to save jobs, know-how and a way of life. What is crucial is to say clearly that France is proud of its past, its values, but also its SMEs, its craftsmen and its farmers, because they are the vivid examples of this art of living, which still opposes the enforced conformity by the consumption-orientated mediocrity. 
    •

Source: © Natacha Polony Le Figaro from 27.8.16


(Translation Current Concerns)

1     FNSEA (Fédération nationale des syndicats d’exploitants agricoles) brings together about 60% of all French farmers through the merger of 15,000 local farmers’ associations and around 100 umbrella organisations from the departments and regions.

Lactalis, a very taciturn family business

The company Lactalis was founded by André Besnier in Laval (Department Mayenne) as a little cheese dairy in 1933. Today, this third generation family business is the largest milk processor worldwide, with 75,000 employees in 85 countries and 230 production facilities. Intermediate stations along this growth path were the creation of cheese brands (Camembert Président 1968) as well as structuring acquisitions (Lactel 1984, Bridel 1990, Roquefort Société 1991, Galbani 2006). In doing so, Besnier International became a central player within Europe›s milk dairy industry.
In 1999, while still under the leadership of the founder’s son Michel Besnier, the company was renamed Lactalis. In 2011, the family business expands to new dimensions with the takeover of its Italian competitor Parmalat. With this acquisition, the Lactalis Group catapulted itself to the top of the world largest milk processors. Its annual turnover is around 17 billion Euro, of which 58% are realised in Europe.
After the sudden death of his father in 2000, Emmanuel Besnier, not even 30 years old, took over the management of the company. Today, he is the main shareholder and shares the ownership of Lactalis with his older brother and his sister. Still, no detailed annual financial reports for the company have been published – instead, it prefers paying fines to publishing its profit margins. According to a media spokesperson of a major French distributor, “the reality is, that Lactalis is making a packet on its margins in France that would be unattainable in China or anywhere else ... and that it is the French farmers that consequently must soak.”

Source: Summary of the article “Lactalis, un groupe secret sous les feux de l’actualité”, published in Le Figaro, 29 August 2016
(Translation Current Concerns)