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farmers protest low prices

Can food get TOO cheap?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

While we might all like a bargain at the checkout, remember that behind all food, there is a farmer, and that farmer needs to make a living.

In Belgium, farmers recently took to the streets to protest low prices for milk, pork, and more. A convoy of hundreds of tractors blocked a major highway while famers burned piles of tires to bring awareness to their plight. Belgian famers are paid about 26 euro cents per liter of milk, but need 35–40 cents to just break even. Many farmers say low prices are pushing them to the edge of bankruptcy.

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photo © EPA

Protesting is nothing new to Belgian farmers; in 2009, dairy farmers sprayed nearly 800,000 gallons of fresh milk onto their fields in protest of low milk prices, and in 2012, thousands of angry farmers on hundreds of tractors sprayed fresh milk on the European Parliament in Brussels during two days of demonstrations.

Just last year, the European Union lifted a milk quota that had been in place for more than 30 years, allowing cheap surplus milk to flood the market. That, and a Russian food embargo banning imports of crops that had been shipped there for years caused a lopsided market, where demand is now smaller than supply. Farmers’ losses are estimated to be as high as 5.5 billion euros.

What to do? Belgian farmers have launched a national fair trade label they hope will help. Six other countries in the EU currently have fair trade guidelines that help farmers get a fair share of the profits. Similar protests in France recently led to an emergency government aid package worth 600 million euros in tax relief and loan guarantees. Belgian farmers are hoping for something similar. On September 7, European agriculture ministers are scheduled to meet in Brussels to address the problems. Continue reading