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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 September 2006, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
French farming fairly?
Paul Barltrop
Paul Barltrop
Politics Show
BBC West

Cool cow
British farmers often cry 'foul' when it comes to the French and farming

Talk to any West country farmer, and you will hear the same complaint... their French counterparts ignore European rules and get huge support from their politicians.

Somerset apple farmer Robin Small is typical: "A lot of other governments, particularly the French, look at the rules that come out of the EU, and say how can we help the farmer get round this?"

He is not alone.

The National Farmers Union say so too. But is it true?

French foray

The Politics Show in the West crossed the channel to find out, and visited the Normandy market town of Lisieux, which is twinned with Taunton.

A trip to the local cheese dairy indicates how French agriculture is supported.

It is a state-of-the-art tourist attraction, built with some European money, but mainly funded by the cheese people buy at the other end.

Cheese on shelves
French supermarkets do support their farmers

The dairy's commercial director knows all about the politics of cheese.

Supermarkets

The first big lesson is not about politicians at all - but about supermarkets.

"Supermarkets do come in here, and taste the cheese," says Jean Luc Dubois. "The supermarket chains have the power to buy regional produce which are a plus for them, a bit of a unique selling point."

The town holds a much bigger market than Taunton - and we help set up a stall to sell West country fare - Somerset brie and farmhouse cheddar, venison sausages from Exmoor, and Gloucester chutney.

And we quickly learn hygiene rules are taken seriously - we have to borrow a fridge to keep things cool.

The mayor visits, and enjoys some samples. He insists they no longer get lots of money from Brussels.

"Now Europe is getting bigger and bigger, and it's more and more difficult to obtain help, because now the funding is reserved for the new countries," says Bernard Aubril.

There is one clear difference from England: our markets make much of their green and organic credentials.

The president of the twinning committee reckons that is one thing they can learn from us.

Farm gate
So are those barriers really there for the British farmer?

"French people seem to be less concerned by the environment than the English," says Chantal Pallee.

"When we went to Taunton last time we went to visit an eco-home: it was very interesting - we have not seen that in France."

So it seems French farmers do not get as much help as we think - except from their local supermarkets.

And there is one other pleasing discovery - they like West country produce: everything sold out - except the Somerset camembert!

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The Politics Show on Sunday 24 September 2006 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.


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