May 31, 2018 / 4:20 PM / 2 years ago

French farmers threaten to block refineries over palm oil imports

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s largest farmers’ union called on Thursday for French oil refineries to be blocked in protest at a decision allowing Total to use imported palm oil at a new biofuel production site.

The French authorities this month gave oil and gas major Total permission to use palm oil as a feedstock at its La Mede biofuel refinery, a move that prompted outcry from farmers and environmentalists.

French farmers who grow local oilseed crops like rapeseed that are also used to make biodiesel see cheaper palm oil imports as unfair competition and contrary to the environmental goals of biofuels.

Palm oil has been widely criticized in Europe for causing deforestation in southeast Asia and some lawmakers are pushing for a ban in its use in biofuel as part of new European Union energy targets currently under discussion.

The FNSEA farmers’ union was calling for refineries to be blocked from June 10 as part of nationwide protests, a spokeswoman said, confirming local media reports quoting FNSEA President Christiane Lambert.

Farmers are also worried that ongoing trade talks between the EU and the Mercosur group of South American nations will lead to an influx of cheaper agricultural imports.

“Across the country, farmers are going to block strategic sites that are symbols of the competition distortions that we endure,” the FNSEA said in a later statement, without referring specifically to refineries.

Total did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company has said it will use less than 300,000 tonnes of crude palm oil per year at La Mede, out of a total processing capacity of 650,000 tonnes, and use oils from other plants such as rapeseed, sunflower seed and maize (corn).

Reporting by Gus Trompiz and Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing Bate Felix and Alexandra Hudson

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