Swiss farmers cry over cheap milk

Milk farmers face an uncertain future but are pulling together Keystone

More than 700 Swiss milk farmers have demonstrated outside the Lucerne headquarters of Emmi, Switzerland’s leading dairy group.

This content was published on April 20, 2005 - 12:19

They are not prepared to accept the 2.7 centimes ($0.02) drop in the price of milk announced by Emmi, which for them would equal a ten per cent salary reduction.

At the peaceful protest on Wednesday morning, farmers from all over Switzerland made it clear that they would not just sit back and let Emmi take away more than a month’s wages.

They also expressed their irritation that the price reduction was not the result of fair negotiations but of a dictate from dairies and wholesalers.

They said Emmi’s decision to give in to pressure from the wholesalers was incomprehensible and would help to sell milk and milk products below cost-price in increasingly irresponsible ways.

The farmers demanded that Emmi and the other dairies stop their ruinous price war in the retail trade and stop recklessly shifting the pressure onto milk producers.

In a response to the protest, Emmi said it understood the concerns but remained convinced that the vast majority of milk producers supported the decision to lower prices.

Call for negotiations

The protesters called on Emmi to change its decision and to meet a negotiating delegation.

They said milk producers were prepared to get involved in the restructuring of the industry, but that a reduction in the price of milk would be rejected.

Swiss dairy farmers benefit from government subsidies, but dairy producers operate under free-market conditions. Apart from a few major dairy producers, there are numerous small dairies notably in mountain regions.

The collapse three years ago of the former Swiss Dairy Food group underlined the difficulties of competing in a small domestic market.

Experts say it is virtually impossible for the dairy industry to expand abroad as long as Swiss milk prices remain above EU levels.

This has prompted many producers to branch out into new areas, such as organic products, so-called "energy drinks" and "beauty drinks" based on aloe vera.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Turnover 1993: SFr500 million ($396 million).
Turnover 2005 (estimated): SFr1.95 billion.
Employees: about 2,600.
Suppliers: about 90,000 cows from 5,450 dairy farmers.
Switzerland produces 3.8 billion litres of milk a year, or 430 litres per person.

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In brief

The number of milk producers fell from 44,360 in 1995/6 to 33,072 in 2003/4.

The number of cows also fell from 615,000 to 587,400.

The average amount of milk produced per cow in 2000/1 was 4,994kg, in 2003/4 5,230kg.

In 2003-2004 Emmi paid an average of 74.45 centimes for a kilo of milk.

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