September 16, 2009 / 5:42 PM / 10 years ago

Europe's farmers dump milk to protest low prices

AMSTERDAM/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Dairy farmers sprayed about 3 million liters of fresh milk onto fields in Belgium on Wednesday, the latest high profile act in a European-wide protest over low milk prices.

Belgian milk producers pour about 3 million litres of milk on a field near the Belgian city of Ciney, in protest over a growing industrial dispute over low prices, September 16, 2009. 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. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Dairy farmers have blocked deliveries, held back supply and thrown away millions of liters of their produce as part of a campaign over what they argue is a failed liberalization and milk quota system.

They blame both the European Commission and local governments and about 7,000 liters of milk was dumped in front of German agriculture ministry buildings in Bonn on Saturday.

After a price spike in 2007, global dairy markets have declined with European producer prices falling to lows of about

20 (euro) cents per liter. Most farmers say about 40 cents per liter is needed to cover costs and generate a basic revenue.

Leaders of the protests say they want the European Union to freeze planned increases in production quotas and on Wednesday they demanded the creation of a pan-European institution to regulate the demand and supply of milk.

“It is really sad that we have to throw away the milk,” Romuald Schaber, president of the European Milk Board, said at a demonstration in Belgium where protesting farmers watched hundreds of tractors spew milk over fields.

“Our demands were not heard by the politicians.”

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.

The protesting dairy farmers 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 after they signed an agreement on July 20 with the government and wholesalers to use collective agreements to buy milk at indexed prices.

EU ACTION

The European Commission, which is in charge of farm policy for the European Union’s 27 members, denies its milk quota system, due to expire in 2015, is to blame for weak prices.

It has already taken steps to shore up dairy markets, including reinstating export subsidies and private storage.

Dairy farmer groups said about 40 percent of France’s 90,000 producers were taking part in the strike, and that it was starting to hit manufacturers. France’s main farm union FNSEA played it down, putting participation at 10 percent at most.

Slideshow (5 Images)

A spokesman for French dairy farmer group OPL, citing comments from dairy employees, said some processors planned to suspend production lines while others were seeking deliveries from abroad.

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.

Reporting by Catherine Hornby in Amsterdam, Bate Felix in Brussels, Gus Trompiz in Paris, Michael Hogan in Hamburg and Martin Roberts in Madrid; Editing by Matthew Jones

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