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French farmers in silent protest

PARIS, France - Thousands of French farmers are staging demonstrations across the country demanding financial support for the ailing livestock industry.

They are holding silent marches and mass barbecues in a plea for help with the foot-and-mouth and mad cow disease crises.

Distraught French farmers blocked roads earlier this month to vent their anger at restrictions on the movement of animals.

But this time Luc Guyau, head of the powerful FNSEA farmers' union, is pledging that the protests will be low key.

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He was quoted as saying in the French daily Liberation."I hope we will mobilise between 70,000 and 100,000 people across France in a calm way, without slogans, without tractors, peacefully."

Guyau said farmers were at the end of their tether as meat sales dwindled. A 1.4 billion franc ($192.3 million) aid package pledged by the government had yet to be distributed.

"Do we want to see the death of French farming? We absolutely have to support cattle breeding which is in a desperate state since the mad cow and foot-and-mouth crises," Guyau said.

He noted that even when it arrived, the 1.4 billion francs would only cover 30 percent of the industry's losses.

"We are being accused of over-producing. This is insane and unfair -- what can we do if beef consumption drops 30 to 50 percent? We need an EU-level agreement to restabilise the market," Guay was quoted as saying.

Prime Minister Lionel Jospin last week urged the European Union to step in and help salvage France's struggling livestock industry, which has been hit by an import ban on live meat by some countries and by a plunge in slaughterhouse activity.

France moved quickly to contain its two confirmed cases of the highly infectious foot-and-mouth disease, and the EU has lifted an embargo on exports of French livestock.

But the crisis has further dented the public's appetite for meat, coming on the heels of the mad cow epidemic.

Foot-and-mouth disease afflicts cloven-hoofed animals like pigs, cows and sheep, causing blistering in mouths and hooves and weight loss. The virus rarely infects humans.

Cattle breeding accounts indirectly for half a million jobs in France, which has a total workforce of 25 million people.

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French Government

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