French vegetable farmers set fire to tax and insurance offices in protest over government inaction on falling living standards stemming from bad crops and Russian food import bans.
The farmers, who say they cannot survive with the continued falling prices their products retrieve, used tractors and trailers to dump artichokes, cauliflowers and manure in the streets and also smashed windows, in the town of Morlaix in Brittany, according to police.
About 100 farmers descended first on an insurance office, which they burned and completely destroyed before driving their tractors to the main tax office where they dumped unsold vegetables and set the building on fire. French media reports said the farmers blocked traffic, which kept rescue workers from extinguishing the fire.
"It is particularly shocking that the fire service was prevented from doing its job," said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in a statement. "Legal proceedings will be carried out against the perpetrators of these acts."
"Nothing can justify these acts of violence, therefore," said agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll, calling on all parties "to find solutions to manage this crisis."
But the local government, including the mayor of Morlaix, seems to be more understanding of where the farmers are coming from.
“These farmers have been sounding the alarm over their situation for the last two weeks, even months,” Morlaix mayor Agnès LeBrun said on Saturday. “It’s not that unusual, a lot of French people are in the same situation. They are weighed down by social charges, by taxes, by debts. Farmers are not madmen, they are company bosses who are not being listened to.”
Russia's retaliatory embargo on Western products has blocked off one of the main export markets for French farmers. The European Union has estimated that the embargo could cost the countries 5 billion euros and although it had promised $162 million in relief for fruit and vegetable farmers, it backed off the plan due to what it called "a disproportionate surge in claims" earlier this month.
French farmers have routinely protested the government's tax policies and inaction on policies that could offer relief for the farming industry.
Last year, a study from the French health institute INVS reported that nearly 500 farmers in France committed suicide between 2007 and 2009. The suicide rate among French farmers is more than 20% higher than the country's general population and, given France's alarmingly high suicide rates that are twice as high as the UK or Spain, it should be a major concern for the French government.