PARIS (Reuters) - Prime Minister Edouard Philippe launched a wide review of France's food sector on Thursday, calling participants to help the state find solutions to improve farmers' ailing incomes, food quality and the environment.
The consultation, part of a campaign pledge of President Emmanuel Macron, is due to last nearly five months and comes as farmers of the European Union's largest farm producer grapple with years of low prices and animal health crises.
"We want everyone to be able to make a living from their work in a context where some producers - farmers and small businesses - are in great distress," Philippe told hundreds of representatives of the sector on Thursday.
More than half of French farmers earned less than 350 euros ($403) a month last year, initial estimates from the Agricultural Mutual Assistance Association (MSA) showed, a figure that is less than a third of the net minimum wage
Company and industry representatives, unions, non-governmental organisations and ministry officials, will gather in 14 thematic workshops to discuss topics ranging from food quality to farm income, the fight against food waste, sustainable production and export strategy.
But Philippe made clear that Macron's government was not able to provide all the answers.
"The state must not do everything," he said. "We all share an interest in working together, it is aim of this consultation."
Three workshops will tackle added value throughout the food chain, a subject at the heart of farmer complaints that price pressure from retailers is killing their profit margins.
Participants to the workshops was still to be decided, but several companies including retailers Carrefour and Auchan [AUCH.UL] have said they had offered to take part.
French agriculture Minister Stephane Travert, who will chair the consultation, said the government would make decisions based on the outcome of the debates due in December, be it through decrees or legislation, but that it was too early to say which.
"The state can do something but the people who are here, producers, industry representatives, can do a lot," he told reporters, stressing the need to find compromises in the sector.
The government hopes participants will have found solutions on pricing issues by October - which usually marks the start of negotiations between suppliers and retailers, Travert said.
France is also launching a public consultation on the future of food in France.
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Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide and Simon Carraud,; Additonal reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Andrew Callus and Alexander Smith