Merkel rebuffs German farmers on hunger strike

16th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Merkel saw no need to meet with six women spearheading a protest of farmers camped outside her chancellery.

Berlin -- Chancellor Angela Merkel refused Friday to meet with German dairy farmers staging a hunger strike outside her offices over the plummeting price of milk.

A government spokesman, Thomas Steg, said Merkel saw no need to meet with six women spearheading a protest of farmers camped outside her chancellery.

Rather, Agriculture Minister Ilse Eigner will convene a round-table discussion with officials and industry representatives on milk prices.

"A meeting at the chancellery is not foreseen at the moment or in the near future," Steg told a government news conference.

He said the government was aware of the dairy farmers' plight with milk prices "at a historic low" and was looking into how it could help producers.

"But such questions cannot be resolved on the national level," Steg said, nor was it likely that a European consensus could be found on raising prices.

The hunger strikers have been camping in a field next to the chancellery building since Sunday night along with about 150 mainly female dairy farmers.

They began their fast Wednesday demanding to meet with Merkel.

The farmers began mobilising when several suppliers, including the no-frills supermarket Aldi, this month lowered the price of milk from 55 to 48 euro cents (75 to 65 dollar cents) per litre (1.75 pints) leaving only between 20 and 25 cents per litre for farmers.

The producers blame a milk glut in part on the European Union, which has agreed to phase out milk production quotas -- which served to stabilise prices in the past -- by 2015.

The wholesale price of milk has halved on average in Europe in the past 18 months.

A number of EU nations have called for the milk production quotas to be kept in place, saying the sector is fighting for survival because of plunging prices.

Federation of German Dairy Farmers chairman Romuald Schaber, who is also president of the European Milk Board, said that with operating costs rising and prices falling, up to 30 percent of farmers could go bust.


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