Irish farmers staged a protest outside the European Commission’s offices in Dublin yesterday (19 March), in an attempt to draw attention to the EU’s “catastrophic mishandling” of the industry.

According to the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), who organised the protest, the EU’s failings have caused the price of raw milk to fall below the cost of producing it.

ICMSA president Jackie Cahill said the price farmers are paid per litre of raw milk is “at least” EUR0.03 below the cost of production.

“For the first time ever, virtually all dairy farmers in Ireland will incur a loss on their enterprises at the same time as they have invested unprecedented amounts of borrowed capital to comply with stringent EU and Irish regulations on the environment,” he said.

The ICMSA has called on the European Commission and the Farm Council, who will meet in Brussels on Monday, to maintain a vigorous supply management system, propping up prices by purchasing milk and introducing export refunds.

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In January, the European Commission said it was considering three measures to shore up the dairy sector: the reintroduction of EU export subsidies; increasing the amount of dairy goods purchased by the EU; and increasing funding given to private companies who remove dairy goods from the market and put them in storage.

An official told just-food that the Commission would pay intervention prices for butter of EUR221.75/100kg (US$287.3) and EUR169.80/100kg for skimmed milk powder.

The Commission also started accepting tenders for export refunds for skimmed milk powder in January.  

However, the ICMSA said that these measures did not go far enough – especially given talk in Brussels of eventual deregulation.

“We still have the EU Commission talking about ‘a soft landing’ and de-regulation. De-regulation in this context means only one thing: even lower prices and even more volatility. The Commission is recklessly undermining a vital part of our food industry – not just in Ireland but across Europe,” Cahill said.

“Our message to Commissioner Boel and her Commission colleagues today is very clear: you are responsible for the chaos in the dairy sector and the huge losses being suffered by dairy farmers at present. It is your responsibility to correct this.”