Paris Agricultural Fair opening marred by protests
French President Emmanuel Macron has opened the 57th edition of the International Salon de l'Agriculture amidst environmental controversies and a failure to reach a European Union deal that would benefit French farmers. The salon runs from 22 February through 1 March.
Upon arrival early Saturday at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in the south of Paris, Macron was questioned by farmers and other demonstrators about the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the issue of pesticides, trade agreements and the government's proposals for the reform of the pension system.
Some 50 activists of Non-Violent-Action COP21, Attac, the Confédération Paysanne, Friends of the Earth and Extinction Rebellion also protested against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) between the EU and Canada.
Macron had just returned from Brussels, where farmers from across Europe had gathered to rally against proposed cuts to the CAP.
Macron was accompanied by the Minister of Agriculture Didier Guillaume. He visited the stand of the champion Charolais bulls, a company running slaughterhouses, cereal producers and wine growers, who are currently suffering from US customs sanctions and trying to get a 300 million euro compensation from the French government to cover their losses.
He also met fishermen who risk losing business as a result of problems over fishing rights in British territorial waters after Brexit.
The salon is France's biggest showcase of its agricultural produce. For a large part it consists of competitions, including contests for animals, for products and wines, and for young professionals.
“The French love, and have always loved, their agriculture,” says Jean-Luc Poulain, president of the National Centre of Exhibitions and Contests (Ceneca), which organises the yearly salon.
“Despite difficulties and misunderstandings that may be generated by certain sensitive debates, they have never lost sight of the essential: it is the farmers who, every day, fill their plates and feed them.”
During the nine days of the salon, hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to roam among the 959 stands showing over 500 different products. And there's something for everyone: children can see a range of different animals, grown-ups can have a taste of local wines and professionals can compare the quality of produce on offer.
On Sunday 23 February, the Charolais bulls will be paraded in front of the public in a contest that will be followed by dozens of others.
The first general agricultural competition ever held in France took place in 1870.