Is France “food independent” enough to avoid shortages, as the government claims?

More than a month after the start of the war in Ukrainepeace “enters an unprecedented food crisis”, warned on Thursday, March 24, Emmanuel Macron, on the sidelines of the G7 and NATO summits. Indeed, many countries depend on Ukraine and Russia, considered the “breadbaskets of Europe”, for the supply of agri-food commodities, especially wheat. However, the conflict slows down exports, production is blocked in ports.

However, the French government wants to be “very reassuring”. “There is no shortage risk in France”This was stated by the Minister of Agriculture and Food, Julien Denormandie, on RMC on March 24. “We are food independent, we produce our own food”added government spokesman Gabriel Attal on March 28. on LKPwelcoming it “luck”this “luxury”. But is he really that sure?

France is by far the largest agricultural producer in the European Union, according to a parliamentary briefing report. published in December. It alone still accounts for about 18% of European agricultural production. The balance of trade in agricultural products in France has also been in surplus for almost half a century, deputies say. In other words: France exports more agricultural products than it imports. It was last in short supply in 1976, a year marked by a severe drought that forced the country to import more than usual.

Excluding exports,So French production of wheat or corn was enough to cover French consumption by more than 150% on average between 2015 and 2019, according to FranceAgriMer cited in a parliamentary report. The production of milk, yoghurts and cheeses also covered the national consumption by more than 100%. The ratio ranged from 94% to 100% for beef, pork, poultry and eggs. And it was 90% and 84% for fresh fruits and vegetables. During this period, France was very clearly an importer of only five types of products – sometimes for obvious reasons: rice (10%), exotic fruits and citrus fruits (17%), fish (32%), soybeans (40%) and lamb (49%) .

Nevertheless, “we it cannot be said that we are completely independent from a nutritional point of view”, says Christophe Guell, an economist at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Inrae). France does import about 20% of its food consumption, and this dependence has doubled in twenty years and even exceeds 50% in some sectors, MPs note, citing France Strategy. “The situation has been deteriorating for several years”, MPs say, citing several examples. More than half of the fruits and vegetables consumed in France are imported, down from about one-third twenty years ago. Between a third and 40% of poultry consumption in France depends on imports, compared with 13% in 2000. A quarter of pork consumption is also imported. And more than half of the lamb consumed in France is also lamb.

But two-thirds of those French imports come from European Union member states (excluding the United Kingdom), according to a study by FranceAgriMer. Spain, Belgium and Germany are France’s top three suppliers, followed by the Netherlands and Italy. “For fruits and vegetables, we are very dependent on countries like Spain or the Netherlands.”illustrated by economist Christophe Güell. France’s leading non-European suppliers are Brazil and Morocco, ranked 9th and 10th in this ranking.

“We are very little dependent on Ukraine and Russia.”

Christophe Guell, Economist at Inrae

on Franceinfo

Russia and Ukraine alone certainly represent 15% wheat production and 30% world export of this cereal, the researcher recalls Sebastien Abis with France 24. But France “remains the leading grain power in the European Union”, adds Thierry Poush, Head of Research and Forecasting of the Permanent Assembly of the Chamber of Agriculture. She produces about 70 million tons of grain per year, of which 35 and 40 million tons of wheat, according to a parliamentary report. “Our wheat production is one third for our consumption, one third for animal feed and one third for export.”summarizes the economist Bruno Parmentier, former director of the Angers Higher School of Agriculture.

Thus, France should not face any difficulties with the supply of wheat-based products. There is no reason why we don’t have enough bread, flour or pasta in France.”, soothes Bruno Parmentier. On the other hand, rising wheat prices will affect us at the price level”adds Christophe Güell. Because even if France does not depend on Russian and Ukrainian wheat, Grain prices are tied to the situation on the world market. Added to this is that “We are in a high inflation environment so prices will rise in the coming weeks” recognized by the Minister of Agriculture.

“The consumer is already starting to feel the price increase for their cart in the supermarket, especially for bread, flour or biscuits.”

Thierry Push, economist

on Franceinfo

Baguette price “Maybe it will rise in price by five to ten cents”, influenced by rising prices for wheat, as well as for energy, Bruno Parmentier for his part predicts. However, the impact of these increases should be relatively limited. “The consequences of the war in Ukraine are primarily felt in the prices of energy and fuel, which weigh more than on the household budget than on the prices of agricultural products.explains economist Christophe Güell.

The price of sunflower oil, the largest exporter of which Ukraine is in the world, may also rise. Nevertheless, “it’s not a very expensive oil, so it won’t make much difference” consumer wallettempers Christophe Güell.

On the other hand, the consequences for French agriculture promise to be more severe. “highly dependent on access to fertilizerscheck Bruno Parmentier. These products are mainly shipped from Russia, leading exporter of nitrogen fertilizers, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). “We had stocks of fertilizers for this year. But 2023 risks being more difficult if the conflict dies down.” worries Thierry Pouch.

France is also heavily dependent on vegetable proteins such as soybeans and sunflowers, which are the basis of animal feed. About 40% of these proteins are imported, which “constitutes one of the most troubling points regarding food autonomy issues”, according to a parliamentary report. Thus, according to Thierry Poush, more than half of the sunflower cake used, in particular, for feeding ruminants, comes from Ukraine.

Lack of supplies of Ukrainian food “will increase the cost of animal feed and punish French breeding”, analyzes Christophe Güell. To help breeders, the government has pledged 400 million euros as part of its sustainability plan.

In general, experts interviewed by Franceinfo want to be sure of the consequences for France. Conversely, some countries in Africa and the Middle East are subject to “under real risk of famine or political instability”, Thierry Pouch points out. Egypt, Libya or Lebanon for example “depends from 50% to 100% on Russia and Ukraine in the supply of wheat”the specialist recalls.

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