Dairy farmers protest as new MEPs meet in Strasbourg

Thousands of dairy farmers from across Europe gathered in Strasbourg on Tuesday morning (14 July) to vent their anger at the continued slump in EU milk prices.

The demonstration, organised by the European Milk Board, was timed to coincide with the opening session of the new European Parliament following last month’s elections.

Producer prices have slumped by around 25% over the past 12 months and most EU dairy farmers are receiving just 20-22 cents/litre (17.5-19p/litre) – way below the cost of production.

“As an immediate measure, we demand that at least 5% of the milk quota be frozen,” said EMB president Romuald Schaber. This, he claimed, would bring supply and demand in Europe into better balance, leading eventually to fairer producer prices.

The EU Commission has consistently rejected the idea of cutting quota, arguing that production is already below this artificial ceiling and quota no longer exerts an impact on the market.

But it has recently proposed extending the availability of intervention purchasing for butter and skimmed milk powder, to provide a base level of support for the market.

And yesterday (13 July) in Brussels, EU agriculture ministers agreed to the proposal, which will see intervention stay open until the end of August 2010, instead of closing next month.

Some ministers also wanted to increase export refunds for cheese, just as refunds for butter and powder have been increased in recent months. But EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said this could be interpreted as dumping, and would be in breach of the EU’s WTO commitments.

So far this year the EU has taken in 81,000t of butter and 231,000t of skimmed milk powder, based on a system of tenders.