EU Faces Ire of Dairy Farmers

On Thursday October 26, demonstrators gathered in front of the European Commission’s headquarters in Brussels. The activists were composed of European dairy farmers and their representatives, who had gathered to demand changes to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The dairy farmer’s beef is in regards to fluctuating milk prices which, according to the agriculturalists, are eating into their profits. They claim that the effort to reduce milk output over the last year, beginning in August 2016, have had an adverse impact on the dairy industry.

The EU incentivized a milk reduction in that month, shelling out some €150 million to farmers who voluntarily cut production. 44,000 farmers complied, reducing the amount of milk on the market by some 852,000 tons.

The measure was implemented to respond to a drop in milk prices, which had hurt farmers. Today the average cost of a liter of milk has increased by 34% since August 2016, and are close to 10% higher than five years ago.

While dairy farmers are pleased with the one-time interdiction, they say more must be done. Specifically, they would like a reduction scheme to be written into the CAP, giving the move legal weight. Farmers also believe this would give them legal recourse if their profits are threatened.

People such as the European Milk Board (EMB) claim that the milk producers, not the farmers, have the most control on profitability. They pay dairy farmers based on the global market price, not taking into account the massive overheads faced by EU agriculturalists.

Christophe Herden, a dairy farmer from outside of Cologne, Germany, is also worried about the high price of milk right now. He claims that the high prices are driving up production, but by saturating the market, this move will mean another bust in the future.

The worry that after another bust, the milk producers would pay dairy farmers even less, yielding higher profits at the expense of farmers.

The quota system was absolved in 2003, and the European Commission has repeatedly claimed it will not bring back quotas. However, without quotas, it is unclear just how the EU plans to regulate milk production.

The activists who gathered in Brussels on October 26 are no doubt aware of that fact, but insist the EU can and must do something nevertheless. They argue that without a return to quotas the best avenue for meaningful change is via the CAP.

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