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EMF Studies

21 August 2017

Quiet Epidemic of Suicide Claims France's Farmers

Marie Le Guelvout at the farm in the Brittany region of
Frence where her brother Jean-Pierre killed himself in
December.  
Credit Pierre Terdjman for The New York Times.
In January 2017, Radio/TV Switzerland  presented a documentary on"Temps Présent" on suicides among Swiss farmers:  in 2016, eight in the canton of Vaud. Unsustainable working conditions, collapsing food prices, stricter production standards, debt... (Documentary in French)

Quiet Epidemic of Suicide Claims France's Farmers
by PAMÉLA ROUGERIE, The New York Times, 20 August 2017

KERLÉGO, France — A dairy farmer, Jean-Pierre Le Guelvout, once kept 66 cows at a thriving estate in southern Brittany. But falling milk prices, accumulating debts, depression and worries about his health in middle age became too much to bear.

Just 46, Mr. Le Guelvout shot himself in the heart in a grove behind his house one cold December day last year. “It was a place that he loved, near the fields that he loved,” explained his sister Marie, who said she was “very close” to him but did not see his suicide coming.

The death of Ms. Le Guelvout’s brother was part of a quiet epidemic of suicide among French farmers with which stoical rural families, the authorities, public health officials and researchers are trying to grapple.



Farmers are particularly at risk, they all say, because of the nature of their work, which can be isolating, financially precarious and physically demanding.

For farmers who do not have children to help with the work and eventually take over, the burden is that much greater. Falling prices for milk and meat have also added to debts and stress in recent years.
Researchers and farming organizations agree that the problem has persisted for years, but while they have stepped up efforts to help farmers, the effectiveness of such measures and the toll from suicides remain difficult to quantify.

The most recent statistics, made public in 2016 by France’s public health institute, show that 985 farmers killed themselves from 2007 to 2011 — a suicide rate 22 percent higher than that of the general population.

Even that number of suicides, which increased over time, may be underestimated, say researchers, who add that they fear the problem is not going away, though they are still analyzing more recent data.

“The doctor establishing the death certificate can avoid mentioning suicide,” said Dr. Véronique Maeght-Lenormand, an occupational physician who runs the national suicide prevention plan for the Mutualité Sociale Agricole, a farmers’ association.

The reason? “Some insurance companies won’t allow compensations for spouses after a suicide,” she said. “There’s also the weight of our Judeo-Christian culture.”

Mr. Le Guelvout’s case came to light because he had previously achieved some fame as a participant in a popular television program, “L’Amour Est Dans le Pré” (“Love Is in the Field”), a sort of French version of “The Bachelor” that aimed to help farmers find companionship.

“He was very naïve,” Ms. Le Guelvout said. “He wanted a wife who worked outside the farm, and to become a father.”

But in some ways, he was representative of the farmers who are most likely to kill themselves, according to public health statistics. They are often men ages 45 to 54, working in animal husbandry.

“It is a time when you start having small health issues, when you think about the transfer of your farm,” Dr. Maeght-Lenormand said. “Farmers can start wondering why they’re doing all of this if no one is here to inherit it.”

But that is not the only force that pushes many to despair.

“There’s this financial pressure, this loan pressure,” said Nicolas Deffontaines, a researcher for Cesaer, a center that studies the economy and sociology of rural areas.

The debts, Mr. Deffontaines said, can lead farmers to deepen their investments, both personal and financial, as they immerse themselves in their work and take more loans to pay off previous ones. In doing so, they fuel their isolation and deepen the financial hole they are in, he said.

In recent years, those financial pressures have grown only more onerous. In 2015, the European Union ended quotas for dairy farmers that had been intended to avoid overproduction.

Continue reading:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/20/world/europe/france-farm-suicide.html

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