Disputes reignited over milk prices ahead of EU crisis meeting

German dairy farmer associations have called for a cap on milk production to combat low prices. [Mike Mozart/Flickr]

Ahead of the meeting between EU agricultural ministers next week, disputes over the regulation of milk prices have once again come to the fore. EURACTIV Germany reports.

On Tuesday (1 September), the Association of German Dairy farmers (Bund Deutscher Milchviehhalter) demanded a temporary cap on milk production at a demonstration in Munich.

The European Dairy Association (EDA) rejected the idea while the EU Commission deferred the question to the Council meeting, saying national agriculture ministers will try to provide a “comprehensive solution” next week.

“Different ideas and suggestions are floating around,” said a spokesperson for EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan. The ministers will meet next Monday to discuss how to “deal with the short and long term challenges facing our farmers,” he added.

The meeting has been called in order to provide help to struggling farmers. Price reductions for milk and meat are the main bone of contention for farmers.

>> Read: France, Italy, Portugal and Spain to tackle dairy crisis together

Contributing factors to the crisis include Russia’s ban on the import of agricultural goods and a drop in demand from China. In addition, milk quotas, which had been in force since the 1980s, were scrapped at the end of March. Now farmers are able to produce as much milk as they wish. The BDM believes this to be the main cause of the low prices being paid to the producer.

BDM chairman, Romuald Schaber, does not goes as far as to advocate a return to quotas, but does call for government intervention. “We are calling for temporary intervention in the milk sector, with milk production being capped,” Schaber told AFP. This applies in times of crisis. At the same time, an “incentive system” should be set up, in which farmers who voluntarily produce less milk are rewarded.

>> Read: EU stockpiling does little to resolve agricultural crisis

Dairy farmers demonstrated in Munich in support of these measures. According to the association, over 3,000 people took part and brought 500 tractors with them to the city centre.

The EDA is strongly opposed to this though. EDA Secretary General, Alexander Anton, told AFP, “that is exactly what we don’t need”. Implementing the system would require a massive bureaucratic effort. High milk production is not limited to Europe, but is a worldwide phenomenon, with the likes of New Zealand and Australia also affected.

However, Green Party MEP Maria Heubuch added her voice to the calls to introduce a cap, saying that “it is farmers’ only chance to be paid a cost-covering price.” Heubuch, who is also a dairy farmer herself, suggested that adjustments could be made regarding animal feed.

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