Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has called for a new approach from the European institutions to address the dairy crisis.
Speaking in Brussels after a European Parliament debate with Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan and a representative from the Dutch EU Council Presidency, Mr Nicholson said: “I welcome the debate in the European Parliament’s plenary session this week as an opportunity to challenge the European Commission and Council on the dire situation facing dairy farmers in Northern Ireland and beyond.
“The previous day the Agriculture Committee hosted a hearing which focused specifically on the crisis in the sector, with representatives from the Commission and Council as well as industry leaders contributing.
“I have to say it was one of the most pessimistic meetings I have ever attended in the European Parliament. During the hearing even one of the Commission’s top civil servants, Joost Koorte, Deputy Director-General of DG AGRI admitted that; ‘the situation is not good. There’s no need for me to beat around the bush’.
“We have to recognise some realities here. The Commission’s own data indicates that there was between a 5% and 7% increase in EU milk production this year. Yet only a small number of Member States are responsible for this substantial and unsustainable increase. These Member States are I believe continuing to stoke the fire, for the sake of gaining European Union market share, and their actions will only make matters worse for everyone in the longer term.
“It seems to me that voluntary supply controls simply will not work unless eaveryone plays ball. The Council of Ministers needs to get to grips with this.
“Our producers are suffering. Our processors are suffering. But the retailers are laughing all the way to the bank. I strongly believe we need to seriously tackle the imbalance in the food supply chain and eliminate unfair trading practices.
“Across agriculture, we need new ideas on the table, or we will not go forward. As I asked the Commission - where is the soft landing for those farmers on whom the banks are closing in?”