A TOTAL of 15 European Union member states, including Ireland, have called for major improvements in support for hard-pressed dairy farmers.
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister Brendan Smith said yesterday his fellow ministers and he are agreed in calling for additional rapid action at EU level to deal with the very serious situation on European milk markets driven by the global economic crisis.
“The group of 15 ministers called for a comprehensive EU approach combining immediate short-term measures along with a medium-term strategy to deal with volatility in the milk sector. This position was also broadly supported by several other countries,” he said.
A statement signed by the ministers called for a temporary increase in the intervention price, and careful management of the disposal of intervention stocks. It also sought increased export refunds for butter, milk powder and cheese, while avoiding any distortions in developing country markets.
The statement also asked for the reactivation of aid for use of milk powder in animal feed and the consideration of measures to modernise and adapt the dairy sector.
Mr Smith said the member states concerned also recognised lessons must be learned from the recent experience of extreme volatility in producers’ incomes.
“In particular, we called for existing market management instruments to be adapted and new ones created in order to be able to deal more effectively with such market volatility in future.”
Mr Smith also noted that he and many others in the Council of Ministers expressed great concern about the increasing divergence between prices paid to farmers and those charged to consumers.
“Ministers overwhelmingly supported recommendations from a high-level group to examine the balance in relationships between retailers, processors and producers and to improve the transparency of price formation at every stage in the food chain,” he said.
Mr Smith said he was heartened by the strong support from so many member states for effective action on these issues.
Meanwhile, the EU agricultural organisations Copa and Cogeca have criticised EU farm ministers for failing to reach a decision on the dairy crisis at their meeting on Monday. They warned that the EU dairy market will deteriorate even further in the absence of strong market measures.
“Public intervention and export refunds on dairy produce need to be activated more and promotional measures must be encouraged in order to stimulate demand.
“Dairy producers share in the food chain is meanwhile continuing to be eroded to the benefit of retailers,” they said.
COPA president Padraig Walshe said: “Many farmers will go out of business while waiting for EU politicians to take action.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved