EU farmers don’t cry over spilt milk, just low prices
Belgian milk producers pour milk on a field near the Belgian city of Ciney. — Reuters picAMSTERDAM, Sept 16 — European dairy farmers, fed up with low prices, gave out milk for free, blocked deliveries and prepared to throw away millions of litres of milk this week in protests.
After strikes began in France last week, protests have included tipping about 7,000 litres of milk in front of German agriculture ministry buildings in Bonn, while farmers also plan to pour 3 million litres on fields in southern Belgium.
They blame their governments and the European Commission for what they call failed liberalisation policies and a milk quota system.
After a price spike in 2007, global dairy markets have declined sharply over the past year, with European producer prices falling to lows around 20 (euro) cents per litre. Most farmers say a level of about 40 cents per litre is needed to cover costs and generate a basic revenue.
“It is a desperate act. When you look at milk producers in Europe, you know that we are facing a catastrophe,” Romuald Schaber, president of the European Milk Board, told a news conference in Brussels today.
Belgian, Dutch and German producers have also prevented trucks from entering distribution and storage sites, and have given milk away for free to win public support for their protest against depressed prices.
Leaders of the protests say they want the European Union to freeze planned increases in production quotas and today they demanded the creation of a pan-European institution to regulate the demand and supply of milk.
They want to create a monitoring agency in which all actors in the milk market including the farmer, consumers and politicians are represented.
In Spain, however, leading farm unions have called off protests by dairy producers since they signed an agreement on July 20 with the government and wholesalers to use collective agreements to buy milk at indexed prices.
The European Commission, which administers and regulates farm policy for the European Union’s 27 member countries, has dismissed the idea that its milk quota system, due to expire in 2015, is to blame for weak prices.
It has already taken a series of steps to shore up dairy markets, including reinstating export subsidies and private storage.
It has also raised ceilings on volumes of butter and skimmed milk powder that can be bought into public intervention stores, to remove supply from the market.
Dairy farmer groups said about 40 per cent of France’s 90,000 producers were now participating in the strike, and that it was starting to hit manufacturers. But France’s main farm union FNSEA put participation at 10 per cent at most.
Protest leaders said falling milk prices have left many farmers facing bankruptcy.
“The more we work, the harder it is to pay our suppliers. It is just too difficult,” said Anne Marcel, a French dairy farmer, choking back tears. — Reuters