Hovering at just above 20 cents a litre, prices paid to producers are too low for many farmers to cover the cost of production.
The European Milk Board says the situation is now so bad that it is “threatening the livelihood of many a farm.”
As agricultural ministers met in Brussels this week to debate the problem, farmers, accompanied by their cows and tractors, protested outside the EU Parliament in Strasbourg and blocked two major roads on the Belgium-France border.
Lower quota for higher prices
The European Milk Board (EMB) and European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) producers are calling for the milk quota to be cut by 5 per cent to help push prices back up to a sustainable level.
To protect farmers in the long term, they also want a mechanism to be put in place enabling supply to be adjusted every year according to market demand. “The yardstick has to be the achievement of a cost-covering price paid to producers,” said EMB President Romuald Schaber.
Milk prices have taken a tumble in recent times as the recession eats away at demand. Farmers in the Euro zone have been particularly badly hit, while UK producers have been sheltered slightly by the weakness of the pound.
Study into price protection strategies
Gathering to discuss falling prices, EU agricultural ministers agreed last week to commission a two-month study to determine the most effective way to help European dairy farmers and halt the price decline.
Brussels has already introduced a range of measures to sure up the European dairy market, including the reinstatement of export subsidies.
These moves have been met by angry criticism from the US, Australia and New Zealand, who have written to Brussels in protest. They say the measures go against the spirit of the G20 agreement to avoid protectionism in the face of the financial crisis.
Despite protectionist steps, ministers remain committed to an agreement reached back in November to scrap milk production quotas by 2014-2015 and to increase milk quotas by 1 per cent a year until then.
The EMB claims that the sharp drop in prices in the last few months is clear evidence that this deregulation of the milk market has already failed.