Belgian, German and French dairy farmers protest in Brussels
Farm tractors blocked major roads in the European quarter in Brussels, where hundreds of demonstrators gathered ahead of a meeting of EU agriculture ministers.Brussels -- Hundreds of protesting farmers filled European streets Monday, with French farmers blockading 81 dairies, to demand EU help to confront low wholesale milk prices.
Farm tractors blocked major roads in the European quarter in Brussels, where about 900 demonstrators, according to police, had gathered ahead of a meeting of EU agriculture ministers.
Riot police were seen trying to hold back the protestors, who converged on the Belgian capital from 10 countries, but the farmers broke through their barricade, despite receiving truncheon blows from some officers.
The protestors -- mainly from Belgium, France and Germany and who want milk quotas to be lowered so prices can move up again -- were allowed to stay after talks between the police and rally organisers.
"A lot of producers can't hold out with milk prices the way they are. Morale is very low," said Erwin Schoepges, a Belgian representative of the European Milk Board, which represents the profession at EU level.
In France, according to the FNSEA union, some 12,000 dairy farmers were involved in an action to halt work at around 81 sites.
"That's 4,000 more protesters than last week," a labour spokesman said.
France has around 150,000 dairy farmers and more than 3,000 dairies.
"Nothing is going in and nothing's coming out," declared Joel Limouzin, a farmers' leader in the Loire Valley.
Farmers accuse retailers of exploitation, complaining that the price they are paid for milk by wholesalers has fallen dramatically in recent months, while the cost to consumers in supermarkets has remained stable.
French farmers are paid 21 euro cents per litre of milk, 30 percent less than in April 2008, according to the national federation of dairy producers FNPL. Consumers pay around a euro per litre.
The French government has appointed mediators to attempt to broker a deal between farmers and milk buyers, but unions have vowed to step up protests across the continent.
As farmers rode tractors through Berlin, just four months before a national election, the left-right ruling coalition said it would cut taxes on diesel fuel used on farms, a finance ministry spokesman said.
The tax relief meets a key demand of the German Farmers' Association, which called the demonstration that it said drew about 6,000 farmers and 200 tractors to the streets leading to the central Victory Column roundabout.
In the Czech Republic on Saturday, about 50 farmers walked to the top of the highest Czech mountain, Snezka (1,602 metres) to protest against low wholesale milk prices.
Low prices have forced many farmers to start culling cows, and the Agricultural Chamber estimates up to 7,000 animals might have to be slaughtered by the end of June.
Another protest is scheduled for next week, when EU farm ministers gather in the southern Czech city of Brno for an informal meeting under the Czech EU presidency from May 31-June 2.