June 12, 2018 / 5:22 PM / 2 months ago

Some French petrol stations run dry as farmer blockade continues

PARIS (Reuters) - Oil and gas major Total said on Tuesday that 3.5 percent of its petrol stations in France had run out of fuel on the second day of a blockade of refineries and fuel depots by farmers that has disrupted distribution.

French farmers, members of the FNSEA, the country's largest farmers' union, block with their tractors the access of the French oil giant Total refinery in Donges, France, June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Farmers are protesting against France’s decision to allow Total to use imported palm oil at a biofuel plant, which would compete with biodiesel made from locally produced oilseed crops, further souring relations between the EU’s biggest farm sector and the government of President Emmanuel Macron.

The blockade now concerned a total of 18 refineries and depots across France, and would continue until the farm minister agreed to some of the farmers’ demands, said the FNSEA, the country’s largest farm union, which is organizing the protests.

“It is really an alarm call that 3,000 farmers on 18 blocked sites have sent out to say, please listen to us and take up this message at a European level,” FNSEA President Christiane Lambert said after meeting Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert.

“The negotiation is not over, we do not have what we want. But by mutual agreement we decided to meet again at the end of the day to move forward on our claims,” she added.

Total, which operates 2,200 petrol stations and five of France’s seven refineries and nine depots, said the depots and four refineries were still blocked. The refineries were still operating.

“There are some difficulties in supplying petrol stations particularly in Paris and the Ile-de-France region,” a Total spokesman said.

Total had urged customers not to rush to petrol stations to fill their tanks, which could spark panic buying and shortages.

French authorities last month gave Total permission to use palm oil as a feedstock at its La Mede biofuel refinery in southern France, infuriating farmers who grow crops such as rapeseed. Environmentalists also blame palm oil cultivation for deforestation in southeast Asia.

Total argues its plans call for using less palm oil than allowed by the authorities, offer an outlet for 50,000 tonnes of locally produced rapeseed and will develop large-scale recycling of used oil and fat.

But Lambert said 50,000 tonnes was “not enough” and that the price needed to be based on producers’ costs, not on palm oil prices.

“As long as we are not successful ... we will remain on the blockades,” the head of France’s young farmers group JA, Jeremy Decerle, said.

Reporting by Bate Felix and Gus Trompiz, writing by Sybille de La Hamaide; editing by David Evans

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