Angry Farmers Are Reshaping Europe

Gazing out from his 265-acre farm to the silhouetted Jura mountains in the distance, Jean-Michel Sibelle expounded on the intricate secrets of soil, climate and breeding that have made his chickens — blue feet, white feathers, red combs in the colors of France — the royalty of poultry.

The “poulet de Bresse” is no ordinary chicken. It was recognized in 1957 with a designation of origin, similar to that accorded a great Bordeaux. Moving from a diet of meadow bugs and worms to a mash of corn flour and milk in its final sedentary weeks, this revered Gallic bird acquires a unique muscular succulence. “The mash adds a little fat and softens the muscles formed in the fields to make the flesh moist and tender,” Mr. Sibelle explained with evident satisfaction.

But if this farmer seemed passionate about his chickens, he is also drained by harsh realities. Mr. Sibelle, 59, is done. Squeezed by European Union and national environmental regulations, facing rising costs and unregulated competition, he sees no further point in laboring 70 hours a week.

He and his wife, Maria, are about to sell a farm that has been in the family for over a century. None of their three children want to take over; they have joined a steady exodus that has seen the share of the French population engaged in agriculture fall steadily over the past century to about 2 percent.

“We are suffocated by norms to the point we can’t go on,” Mr. Sibelle said.

Jean-Michel Sibelle is looking to sell a farm that has been in the family for more than a century.

Mr. Sibelle’s chickens are “poulet de Bresse,” a treasured variety that has had legal recognition in France since 1957.
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