BRUSSELS, Sep 7 (AP) — Thousands of farmers, driving hundreds of tractors through the city center, protested outside European Union headquarters to demand more aid and higher prices for their milk and meat.
From across the 28-nation EU, farmers converged on EU headquarters with their tractors, snarling traffic throughout the morning in the capital and on some highways leading into Brussels.
EU agriculture ministers were meeting in an extraordinary session to assess the crisis and look for ways to help the farmers. The EU Commission said it proposed a package of measures to the ministers to immediately ease farmers' cash flow problems, stabilize the volatile markets and better regulate the supply chain to better protect farmers.
"It will be a robust and decisive response," said EU Commission spokesman Daniel Rosario.
With the relentless blowing of horns, farmers showed their anger over a drop in prices that has intensified since the opening up of the milk market early this year.
"Prices have gone down 30-40 percent for most farmers and our farms are really going bankrupt like this," said Sieta van Keimpema, vice president of the European Milk Board farmers group.
Some farmers have called for a reintroduction of quotas on production or more direct aid from their governments to pay the bills.
Farmers were complaining they basically now have to dump their produce on the market at a loss. "The milk price is under or around 28 cents (per liter, about 0.2 gallons). And this is not enough even to cover the costs," said Heinz Thorwarth, who had come to Brussels from Fuchsstadt, in southern Germany.
Organizers said some 6,000 farmers protested while 2,000 tractors were blocking traffic in and around Brussels.
Making sure there would be sufficient food for Europeans was one of the key pillars on which the European Union was built half a century ago. But a system of generous subsidies and market-shielding measures led to overproduction and an industry that found it tough to adapt to changing conditions.
Quotas to limit dairy production were abolished in April and extra production has caused prices to tumble.
The farmers are also complaining about cheap imports from outside the EU.