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Swiss farmers target Coop over prices

Farmers are angry that they are not being paid more by retailers


Swiss farmers have been demonstrating outside distribution centres of the supermarket chain, Coop, demanding what they call reasonable prices for their products.

The protests began early Monday morning outside three Coop distribution centres near Zurich, St Gallen and Bern. Hundreds of farmers gathered to voice their concern about the direction of Swiss agricultural policy.

Melchior Ehrler, managing director of the Swiss Farmers Union said: "Prices for farmers are decreasing and prices for consumers are rising so we have a problem. The farmers don't understand why the consumer is paying more and the farmer is getting paid less."

The farmers say their action was triggered by Coop's announcement that it wants to reduce prices. However, Coop spokesman, Karl Weisskopf, says the supermarket's announcement has been misunderstood.

"They are saying that we want to cut production prices by 20 per cent over the coming five years, but that is not true. We were talking about final prices in the shops. We compared these prices with those in other countries like Germany or France, and we said the prices of fresh products, which are very high in Switzerland, will have to be reduced about 20 per cent. But we never talked about the prices at the production level."

Unlike similar protests last month, the farmers did not attempt to blockade Coop's distribution centres and trucks were free to come and go. Ehrler says the farmers are sending a signal to Coop and indeed to the government, which is redefining Swiss agricultural policy in an increasingly competitive world.

Meanwhile, Coop says it is baffled by the demonstrations as the two sides have already agreed a date later this month to discuss the issue.

"We were always ready to discuss these problems with the producers and the industry," says Karl Weisskopf.

"These discussions have already been fixed and they will be on January 27 and we don't understand why these farmers are continuing to protest now. It's not the Swiss way to discuss problems."

by Vincent Landon

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