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Bongrain, one of the dairy groups at the centre of the milk row in France, has backed government moves for mediated talks with farmers – but insisted the fall in milk prices in April came after a jump in prices last year.

Farmers, angry at what they claim has been a 30% fall in the price of milk during the second quarter of the year, today (19 May) held nationwide demonstrations at dairy company offices throughout France.

Bongrain has witnessed protests and, yesterday, a few dozen demonstrators picketed its offices and held informal discussions with management outside the building, a company spokesperson said.

The French government has appointed mediators in a bid to resolve the stand-off between the country’s producers and dairies, while Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Michel Barnier will push the issue when he meets EU ministers next week.

Bel, the French cheese maker behind brands including The Laughing Cow, yesterday called for talks between the dairy industry and farmers to restart.

Speaking to just-food, Bongrain gave its support to the prospect of discussions between the dairy industry and farmers.

A spokesperson for Bongrain called for the return of regular discussions between dairies and farmers over milk prices, negotiations that were scrapped last year under EU law.

However, the spokesperson pointed out that Bongrain had increased the price its pays its milk suppliers by 30% last year. She also defended this year’s price cut by pointing to a slump in consumer demand and the company’s tumbling margins.

“What the agricultural people don’t say is that, last year, there was a 30% price increase. People say: ‘the dairies want to protect their margins’ but, last year, our margins were down 75%,” the Bongrain spokesperson told just-food.

The 30% price cut quoted by the farmers unions only looked at milk prices over one month and the trend could be different over the quarter as a whole, the Bongrain spokesperson insisted.

She refused to be drawn, however, on whether Bongrain would move on price should both sides sit down for the government-backed discussions.

It remains unclear whether angry French farmers will again demonstrate across the country. Tomorrow, the head of the French farmers union, the FNSEA, will join he milk producers federation, the FNPL and agricultural body Jeunes Agricultures to meet Minister Barnier in Paris.