European dairy farmers set hay on fire and spilled milk in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels on Monday (21 September) and warned their protest over low milk prices would intensify.
About 80,000 dairy farmers across Europe have joined a milk supply boycott, which is now on its tenth day. They are demanding that the EU executive, which is in charge of farm policy for the 27-nation bloc, removes excess milk from the market.
"Up until now our protests have been going the right way. But without change, our actions will harden and I don't know how it will end," Erwin Schoepges, president of MIG, which represents Belgian dairy farmers, told Reuters.
Farmers in eight major dairy producing countries including France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands planned to dump 26 million litres of milk on Monday, said the European Milk Board, which represents 140,000 dairy farmers.
"We are now asking how many litres have to be thrown away before politicians start to react," Schoepges said.
Romuald Schaber, president of the European Milk Board, said the European Commission should take emergency action to resolve the crisis before it affected the retail sector.
Belgian supermarket group Delhaize said it was closely monitoring the situation and had increased stocks of milk it sells under its house brand.
"There is no need panic at the moment," spokeswoman Liesbeth Rogiers said. "We will take action when needed. I cannot say how long the stocks will last."
Farmers blame both the European Commission and their governments for the oversupply which they say has cut producer prices to about 0.20 euros ($0.29) a litre from 0.40 euros two years ago, which they say they need to stay profitable.
The Commission denies that its milk quota system, due to expire in 2015, is to blame for weak prices and says it has taken a number of steps to shore up the market.
Poland joins French-German calls for price regulation
Meanwhile, Poland yesterday threw its weight behind a French-German proposal to help European Union farmers hit by tumbling global prices for milk.
The French-German draft calls both for temporary measures such as an increase in export refunds for butter, milk powder and cheese, and for longer-term changes like making EU intervention buying possible all-year round and developing contractual agreements between dairy producers and processors (EurActiv 08/09/09).
France's Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said he would push in the coming days for a meeting of all 27 EU farm ministers to discuss the crisis.
(EurActiv with Reuters.)