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Dairy Farmers Burn Hay, Dump Milk In Price Protest

European dairy farmers set hay on fire and spilled milk in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels Sept. 21 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 in its 10th day. They are demanding 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 Sept. 21, 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 to 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 European Commission denies 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.

However, the strike’s impact has been played down by French authorities and the main farm union, FNSEA, which opposes it. Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said deliveries to dairies had fallen by only 10 per cent and that the sector was not facing any supply difficulties.

After announcing 30 million euros in aid this week to help the worst-off livestock farmers, the minister said he would meet with banks and insurers to discuss further financial relief for dairy producers.

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