Milk farmers vent fury at militant demo in Brussels


05.10.2009 @ 17:51 CET

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Several thousand dairy farmers from across the continent on Monday drove their tractors to the heart of the European quarter in Brussels, where EU agriculture ministers were meeting informally to discuss a response to the crisis in the milk sector.While the Schuman roundabout, home to the Council of Ministers building, was filled with black, acrid smoke from a pair of bonfires of straw-filled rubber tyres, agricultural vehicles draped in angry banners and flat-bed trucks bearing German black-red-and-gold fibre-glass cows blocked the streets. The younger farmers hurled bottles, bags of grain and potted plants at a phalanx of riot police with shields and gas-masks at hand, while razor-wire barricades protected the council building and water cannon lay ready in case the trouble escalated.

Following a peak in milk prices in mid-2008, world markets have seen a sharp decline. A recent drop of some 40 percent has pushed milk prices to 1992 levels. The development will have robbed European dairy producers of some €14 billion by the end of the year, according to Copa and Cogeca, the European farmers' associations.

A litre of milk currently costs 40 cents to produce, but farmers cannot sell for more than 20 cents, with the trade associations warning this will push thousands of their members into bankruptcy if robust action is not taken soon.

According to the European Milk Board, since Autumn 2008, the European milk market has been under considerable pressure from volumes, with milk supply exceeding demand.

Health check

The European Commission has been trying to stabilise the market since the beginning of this year by re-introducing export refunds and storing vast amounts of butter and milk powder. The producers warn that this has cost millions of euros, but has not prevented the slump in prices.The dairy farmers are opposed to an agreement taken by EU member states in November 2008, as part of the "health check" - or reform - of Europe's Common Agricultural Policy, which would see milk quotas gradually increased ahead of their abolition in 2015. They say this has flooded the market and destroyed prices. Instead, they want quotas cut by five per cent in order to drive up prices.

France and Germany have said that they favour additional export subsidies to boost price levels. A total of 19 member states back the proposals, but they are being resisted by the UK, Sweden and the commission.

In the end, the informal meeting of agriculture ministers backed a plan to establish a high-level expert group that would examine medium to long term measures to aid the sector. The group will consider contractual relations between producers and dairies, different market instruments, transparency, innovation, and dairy market futures. Agriculture commissioner Marion Fischer-Boel told reporters after the meeting that there was "widespread" support for the high-level group and that there will be "no rolling back on the health check, which the commission considers of the utmost importance.The expert group will start its work next Tuesday with a deadline of June 2010.She said that following the decisions that have already been taken to support the farmers "We can already see a positive influence on prices. It appears to be going up in some member states more than others, but the trend seems to be fairly stable."

Taking a milk bath

Benedict Franquin, a farmer from Strasbourg told EUobserver that milk prices had dropped to such a level that he could almost save money by giving his children a bath in milk. A photograph of two toddlers in a plastic blue tub filled with frothy milk adorned his placard."The game Marion is playing with us cannot continue. What she proposes will only make the smallest farms - the family, peasant farmers - disappear in favour of the most powerful," he said. "This will not only destroy the family farm, but the quality that goes with it. It's incredible, this form of dogmatism."

The farmers want the EU to abandon plans to scrap milk quotas and are demanding the creation of a new European agency to orchestrate supply and demand for milk.They also want additional measures to be taken to help stimulate demand, such as using skimmed milk powder for animal feed and re-implementing temporarily community schemes for butter disposal, such as into pastry. In the medium to long term, the farmers are also looking to measures to strengthen the position of producers in relation to the supermarket giants.While the amount retailers are willing to pay for milk products has tumbled, the price consumers pay has hardly budged."EU farmers are furious. Fourteen billion euros of their income is being re-distributed amongst other stakeholders in the food chain, especially retailers," said Copa President Padraig Walshe in Brussels. "EU farm ministers must take rapid political decisions to help bring the EU dairy sector out of crisis. Without radical action, more farmers will go out of business and there will be a further exodus from rural areas."

The Brussels protests have become something of a regular occurrence in the EU capital, with similar protests taking place in June, while in September, farmers dumped some 3 million litres of milk onto Belgian fields.In the past week, farmers stepped up their protests in nine EU countries, with thousands giving milk away to consumers, and organising picnic events or demonstrating with tractors.

EU agriculture ministers will meet again in Luxembourg later this month to discuss additional supports.


ISIS Report 23/09/09

The Day of the Triffid in Transgene Contamination

Transgenic flax grown for several years in Canada has nevertheless contaminated probably the country’s entire flax seed stock; that’s why flax should never be used to produce transgenic industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals Prof. Joe Cummins    

A fully referenced version of this article is posted on ISIS members’ website. Membership details here. It can also be downloaded here


Transgene contamination of flax seed

Flax seed is used widely in the food industry, including bread, and as source of omega 3 fatty acids. On 10 September 2009, the European Union (EU) Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) reported finding an unapproved genetically modified (GM) flax/linseed variety in cereal and bakery products in Germany. The GM flax variety, FP967 (CDC Triffid), is not authorized for food or feed in the EU; it has tolerance to soil residues of sulfonylurea-based herbicides, and was developed by the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. Canada supplies approximately 70 percent of the total flax/linseed in the EU annually. Because GM flax FP967 is not authorized in the European Union, there is zero tolerance for the variety. That means any raw material or flax/linseed derivative analyzed to be positive for FP967 is illegal and not marketable in the EU. The test for the genetic modification of Triffid flax  was developed by Genetic ID  Laboratories in USA and Europe [1].

The ‘Triffid’ is a highly venomous fictional plant species, the titular antagonist from John Wyndham's 1951 novel The Day of the Triffids. The University of Saskatchewan appears to have used that great novel as a model for its GM creation.

Triffid yanked off seed market in 2001

The discovery of Triffid gene contamination in Canadian flax exports is surprising because Triffid flax seed has not been openly produced in Canada since 2001. Triffid was deregulated over a decade ago in Canada for environmental release for feed in 1996 and for food in 1998.  USA authorized the release of Triffid for food and feed in 1998, and for commercial growth in the environment in 1999 [2]. Triffid has been grown in the open fields in both Canada and US. But by early 2001, under pressure from Canadian flax growers anxious to protect their markets, Triffid was deregistered and removed from the market in Canada. By then, around 200 000 bushels of Triffid flax seed had been grown on farms across the prairies [3].

Why is Triffid in flax exports?

Triffid has probably contaminated most North American flax exports including 'organic' flax because the crop is significantly insect pollinated. Why has the GM contamination escaped careful scrutiny in Europe during those years of flax export? One explanation may be partly technical. The herbicides tolerated by Triffid flax are sulphonylurea derivatives and the genes transforming flax are not the usual genes used to produce herbicide tolerant crops. The promoter and terminator genes are native from the plant source of resistant genes Arabidopsis. What I am saying is that is that Triffid is a University of Saskatchewan product and does not employ the usual large company genes and that may be a reason they were not detected earlier.

Sulphonylurea herbicide resistance was selected for development because  that herbicide family is used  to control weeds of winter wheat  which tolerates the herbicide  but the herbicides persist in the soil  preventing crop rotation with broad leafed crops such as flax [4, 5]. Prior to  the approval of Trffid by Canada  in 1995,  the creators of Triffid, Professors McHuhen and Holm, chastised the government regulators for asking scientifically irrelevant question [6].  The current problem with Triffid suggests that the government regulators may have been badgered into arriving at a faulty conclusion.

Transgenic flax for industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals

 During the past decade, there has been a lot of pressure to produce pharmaceutical products and industrial plastics precursors in flax so as to avoid polluting 'major' food and feed crops. This is being promoted by the usual GM brigade. Such mindless pollution of flax fails to recognize the crop’s natural dietary and medicinal properties. The main objection to the use of transgenic flax to produce industrial chemicals and  pharmaceuticals is that even though flax  is mainly self pollinated it is also significantly insect pollinated (to the order of five percent or more of the pollination [7-9]).  Gene flow from flax occurs to wild and weedy relatives that include several species native to North America as well as feral agronomic flax [10].

The detection of transgenic flax Triffid in Canadian imports for food and feed in Europe is disturbing because the production of Triffid flax was officially discontinued in 2001. The implication is that the entire Canadian flax crop may have been contaminated by exposure to the  genetically modified crop during the five years in which 200 000 bushels of  Triffid flax were produced and marketed in North America. The current problems with Triffid flax demonstrates most emphatically that flax is not suitable for producing transgenic industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals.