Tractors blockade Brussels EU HQ over falling food prices

European Commission announces new aid package to alleviate difficulties in farming sector.

By William Louch

07 Sep 2015

Several thousand farmers and their tractors have descended on the EU district in Brussels today in protest over what farmers' leaders are calling a "drastic EU agriculture situation".

Concerned about a dramatic fall in prices across the agri-food sector, the dairy, pork, fruit and vegetable and beef producers vowed to bring the area surrounding the EU Council headquarters to a standstill.

The attempted blockade involved around 2000 tractors and was timed to coincide with an extraordinary meeting of EU agriculture ministers today in Brussels, aimed at finding solutions to the difficult market conditions many European farmers are currently facing.


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Organisers, EU farming and agri lobby association, Copa-Cogeca, said the protest would seek to "underline the unprecedented situation [of Europe's farmers]" and to "demand action."

The crisis in the agriculture industry, which has seen food prices plummet, stems from the combined factors of a Russian import ban, supply chain problems and the recent sudden weakening of the Chinese import market.

Milk producers have been particularly affected, seeing a 25 per cent fall in wholesale prices over the last 12 months. As a result, most dairy farmers in Europe are now producing milk at a loss.

Russian sanctions, described by Brussels as 'illegal and unjustified', have hit farmers particularly hard. Russia is the second biggest market for agri-food exports after the US, with exports worth around €11-12bn a year.

In July, the European Commission responded to Moscow's action, promising a multi-million-euro aid package to help those farmers exporting to Russia.

However, farmers unions say the Commission's response doesn't go far enough, with Copa-Cogeca welcoming it as, "a step forward in the actions taken so far by the EU Commission to help alleviate the situation, but it is nowhere enough to compensate producers for their losses."

"Producers are victims of international politics. The Commission, ministers and MEPs must act."

Parliament has also reiterated the need for further support from the Commission.

Mairead McGuinness, a member of the European Parliament's agriculture and rural development committee, told this website that, "today's protest by EU farmers is the culmination of a summer of difficult market conditions for producers due to the ban on EU food imports into Russia, weak demand from China, resultant imbalances and increased production costs."

"Farmers should not be asked to carry the costs of this."

Albert Deβ, European People's Party group spokesperson on agriculture, supported McGuiness, saying, "The current situation illustrates again that the existing security tools such as public intervention and private storage are not sufficient enough. We urgently need new instruments on crisis measures."

Diane Dodds, an unattached MEP, also voiced her support for the demonstrations, underlining, "I agree with the need for demonstrations on a number of levels because they do raise public and political awareness, which in many cases helps deliver action."

"On a practical level, it also allows farmers from across Europe to understand they are not going through this financial and mental stress on their own."

The Commission issued a swift response to the protests, with Daniel Rosario, Commission spokesperson for agriculture and rural development, announcing that, "the Commission is well aware of the difficult situation faced by producers."

"And in response to recent market developments, [the Commission] is proposing a comprehensive package of measures which we believe are the most appropriate and which will have the greatest effect in supporting producers."

Rosario added that today's package of measures would specifically target "cash-flow difficulties farmers are facing, help stabilise markets and address the functioning of the supply chain."

 

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