French farmers to stage refinery blockade to protest palm oil imports

French junior ecology minister said on June 11, as farmers blocked refineries across the country in protest against use of the vegetable oil in biofuels, that France will commit at European Union level to freeze the use of palm oil.

"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. This blockade is illegal.

French farmers launched blockades of the country's 14 refineries and hundreds of Total S.A. fuel depots since Sunday evening to protest imports of low cost palm oil for manufacturing biofuel, a move they denounce as unfair competition that jeopardizes their livelihood.

A total of 16 sites were blocked on Monday afternoon, France's largest farm union FNSEA (National Federation of Agricultural Holders' Unions) said on Twitter.

Hulot had said previous year France would take steps to restrict the use of palm oil in producing biofuels in order to reduce deforestation in the countries of origin, without detailing the measures.

Energy giant Total wants to import up to 300,000 tons a year of palm oil, which environmental advocates say has caused massive deforestation chiefly in southeast Asia.

The farmers' unions warned the three days action could be extended.

Asked about the risk of fuel shortages due to the movement, the minister said "there will be no shortage of fuel".

The company has said that no more than 50 percent of raw material used at the facility will be imported palm oil, and that all suppliers will be certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

"Our target is the state", FNSEA's Lambert said, adding Total's decision on palm oil was "the last straw".

The mostly symbolic blockade at La Mede was lifted around midday with farmers returning to work, according to a Reuters photographer on site. Some European lawmakers are pushing for a ban on palm oil use in biofuel, citing its effect on the environment.

Vanessa Coleman