European Farmers’ Anger Spills Into the Streets of Brussels
BRUSSELS — After months of complaints by European dairy farmers angry over low prices, protesters in Brussels on Monday poured milk onto the streets, hurled eggs and other missiles, and started fires that filled the air with black smoke.
Police helicopters hovered overhead as hundreds of tractors — and some cattle — blockaded the area outside the European Union’s headquarters while agriculture ministers met in an emergency meeting.
The gathering of ministers, convened after pressure from France, failed to produce any breakthroughs apart from a decision to set up a committee to report on the dairy industry in June.
Monday’s protest was the latest by farmers who dumped around three million liters of milk on fields in Belgium last month.
“There’s a very serious crisis in the milk sector,” said the Swedish agriculture minister, Eskil Erlandsson, who headed Monday’s discussion. “We didn’t take any decisions today, but we identified areas where the future policy needs to concentrate on.
The protest organizers, the European Milk Board, said that more than 1,000 tractors and 5,000 people took part on behalf of “more than 80,000 dairy farmers”.
The group said milk prices are below 75 percent of production costs. Another European farm union organization, Copa-Cogeca, says that milk prices have plummeted 30 percent in a year and that dairy producers will lose up to 14 billion euros before the end of the year if nothing is done.
The European Commission, however, said that the average milk price increased slightly in the last two months and that the price of butter and skimmed milk powder had risen 7 to 9 percent in three months.
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