BRUSSELS – Thousands of dairy farmers on Monday protested low prices for their product, choking traffic into the Belgian capital with hundreds of tractors and spraying European Union headquarters and police with milk.
Farmers from several EU nations demanded higher prices for milk, which currently is often being sold at below production costs because of a drop in international demand and increased competition. They want milk prices to be managed so the farmers become less dependent on short-term market movements.
"Politics are really killing us. It has to change very quickly at the European level," said Belgian farmer Julien Husquet. `'The way it is going we are in big trouble."
The farmers are seeking an increase of up to 25 percent in their prices to cover costs, based on current conditions.
The EU is currently preparing an overhaul of its Common Agricultural Policy which has often strictly set production and pricing conditions in the past. The bloc hopes to let the market become a bigger player in the future while assuring that farmers can still have a steady income.
When the EU was confronted with surpluses in the 1980s, it introduced quotas, above which special levies had to be paid, to contain the milk production. Now, it is steadily loosening the system to prepare for further liberalization in 2015. But with larger amounts of milk that can be produced, the glut can also lead to lower prices and bankruptcies.
EU farm ministers will meet on Wednesday to discuss further reforms.
"We have a European Parliament that hasn't made a move in years. We want new laws that will give an insurance for our future," said Roberto Cavaliere of the European Milk Board.
To push their demands on Monday, the farmers sprayed the entry of the parliament with copious amounts of milk, including some police officials guarding the legislature. Despite some pushing and shoving with police, there were no major disturbances.
When prices were low in 2009, the EU agreed to give the dairy sector an extra $360 million in special aid, caving in to farmers' demands in an effort to quell a season of unrest in agriculture.