EU farmers protest against falling milk prices

25.05.09 @ 17:52

  1. By Elitsa Vucheva

BRUSSELS - Hundreds of European farmers gathered outside the European Commission in Brussels on Monday (25 May) to protest against falling milk prices.

  • Farmers are calling for a flexible quota system (Photo: EUobserver)

Approximately 1,000 farmers from various EU countries, including France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, gathered in front of the EU headquarters to protest the increasingly low prices at which their milk is bought.

"We have average production costs of €33 for 100 litres of milk and at the moment we are paid €19 for 100 litres. And the €33 is without counting the labour cost. That means that every time we milk one litre, we lose money," said Eric, a Belgian farmer, who had brought a cow to the protest.

In order to be properly paid, the farmers should get "at least €44" for 100 litres of milk, he added.

The farmers say that the money they get from retailers has fallen by 30 percent, while the prices in supermarkets have not changed.

But rather than blaming the retailers, the farmers demand EU action and notably, more regulation and a fixed price for milk.

They are also pushing for maintaining milk quotas which the EU agreed to phase out by 2015.

"The shops are making business, that's all. What we need is to maintain the quotas at a European level in order to regulate the offer and the demand," Eric said.

"It's not a problem of the stores, it's a problem of a regulation by the states and overall by Europe," another protester said.

Protests elsewhere

At the same time as the Brussels protest, similar actions were taking place in other European cities.

In France, which has around 150,000 milk farmers and more than 3,000 dairies, some 12,000 farmers blocked 81 of the dairies across the country, and the French government has appointed mediators to attempt to broker a deal between the milk farmers and buyers.

In Germany, some 6,000 farmers were expected to hit Berlin's streets, while some 40 members of the Irish IFA dairy committee staged a protest at the office of the European Commission in Dublin.

If there is no result from Monday's protest, the movement will "harden," said Jean-Michel, a French protester in Brussels. "We will not stop as long as we will not have obtained what we want," he added.

The farmers say that if things do not budge, they will not hesitate to organise a Europe-wide dairy strike. "We will stop milking, we will not buy any more feed, we will not make the industry turn anymore, we will give all the milk to the calves," Eric from Belgium warned.

Commission defends quota phase-out

For its part, the European Commission said it had already taken several steps to support the European dairy market, including the reinstatement of export subsidies .

So far, the commission has put 83,000 tonnes of butter into private stores, and bought 77,000 tonnes of butter and 161,000 tonnes of skimmed milk powder into intervention stores.

"The quotas are not the reason for the low prices," EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel told reporters on her arrival at the meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Brussels.

"It's simply a question of lower demand from consumers. That's the reason [for the low prices] and I can guarantee it would make no difference if we discussed the quotas. What farmers need to do is produce less because there's a lower demand," she said.

The bloc's ministers were to discuss the issue on Monday with France and Germany set to push for more EU-wide action to cope with the low milk prices.

"Despite the re-introduction of export subsidies at the end of January, the European Union is still not very competitive on the butter and butter oil markets, and especially that for cheeses," said a French note to be presented to the farm ministers, Reuters reported.

It also calls on EU commission experts to produce a report on the bloc's dairy market as soon as possible, as well as annual reports up to 2015, when the milk quotas are to be scrapped.