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Europe cries over spilled milk as low prices hit farmers

Tractors are parked around a roundabout with a fire burning during demonstration by dairy farmers in Ghislenghien, Belgium.
Nicolas Maeterlinck | AFP | Getty Images
Tractors are parked around a roundabout with a fire burning during demonstration by dairy farmers in Ghislenghien, Belgium.

Cheap milk in the supermarket may be a bonus for consumers, but farmers aren't thrilled.

Over the past few weeks, dairy farmers in Europe have demonstrated against the falling price of milk, which is impacting their incomes.

Last week, for instance, farmers in the U.K. cleared milk cartons from supermarket shelves to either buy in bulk or abandon by the checkout. British farmers have also blocked shop entrances and obstructed traffic with tractors.

But one of the most eye-catching protests happened in Staffordshire in the West Midlands, where two cows arrived at a Wal-Mart owned Asda store, along with 70 protestors.


Dairy prices across the world fell by 7.2 percent in July from June, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported last week.

The organization attributed this to "lower import demand from China, the Middle East and North Africa, amid abundant EU (European Union) milk production."

British farming unions held an emergency summit on Monday to discuss to "crisis" facing the industry.

British farmers were paid an average price of 23.66 pence ($0.37) per liter of milk in June, with some paid as little as 15 pence, according to the U.K.'s National Farmers Union (NFU). This was down from 31.66 pence a year before.

In June, farmers sold the milk at a loss, as the average cost of production is around 30 pence, according to the union.

The NFU is urging U.K. supermarkets to link customer prices to the cost of production, helping support farmers' incomes at a difficult time.


Farmers in France and Belgium have also demonstrated.

This summer, French farmers protested against European Union food imports laws by blocking roads from Spain and Germany. In July, the French government announced plans to raise prices on milk and meat products and proposed an emergency support package for farmers, worth 600 million euros to help offset losses.

Farmers throw bricks of milk and fruits as part of a demonstration against market prices of their products in Lyon, France.
Philippe Desmazes | AFP | Getty Images
Farmers throw bricks of milk and fruits as part of a demonstration against market prices of their products in Lyon, France.

Meanwhile, Belgium dairy producers continued to protest in July after the EU halted quotas aimed at limiting production, allowing cheaper surplus milk to become more available.

On July 30, the European Commission said it would extend "safety net measures" for the European dairy, fruit and vegetables sectors until 2016, saying it was "aware of the challenges faced" by producers.

These measures include the public buying of dairy products and help to producers in storing butter and skimmed milk powder.