Farmers have blocked several refineries and depots of French oil and gas giant Total in protest over its planned use of imported palm oil as a feedstock for its new La Mede biofuel refinery.

Using truckloads of onions, wood and rubble, the farmers on 10 June blocked the depots and refineries as a part of three days of protests, reported Reuters on the day.

The farmers, who grow crops such as rapeseed which is also used for biodiesel, are concerned that allowing cheaper palm oil imports for biodiesel would result in unfair competition and work against biofuels’ environmental goals.

France’s largest farm union National Federation of Agricultural Holders’ Unions (FNSEA) said that by the afternoon of 11 June, a total of 16 sites had been blocked, Reuters wrote.

Among the blocked facilities were Total’s Gonfreville oil refinery and a nearby oil depot, alongside its Feyzin, Donges and Granpuits refineries.

The La Mede refinery was also symbolically blocked, although it was not operational and the blockade was removed during the same day.

Total said the protests had not had an impact on its operations and that there should be no shortage of fuel in France, but it nonetheless urged drivers not to rush to petrol depots for panic purchases.

France’s farm minister Stephane Travert called the blockades illegal and said that the government would not rescind Total’s license to use palm oil.

Total said La Mede’s launch was still expected in early September. The company has said it would buy 50,000 tonnes/year of French rapeseed oil for the 650,000 tonnes/year refinery.

Total also said the facility’s feedstock would comprise 60-70% vegetable oils, with a limit of 300,000 tonnes/year of crude palm oil, and the other vegetable oils coming from oilseeds such as rapeseed, sunflower and corn. The remaining 30-40% feedstock would comprise recycled animal fat, cooking oil and industrial oil.