Europe to give struggling farmers €500m in aid

media captionEU farmer protests explained - in 80 seconds

EU agriculture ministers have announced a €500m (£365m) aid package after thousands of farmers protested on the streets of Brussels.

The mainly Belgian, French and German farmers were protesting against plummeting prices for their produce.

They blocked streets with tractors near the EU headquarters, where agriculture ministers were meeting.

The European Commission said it was "well aware of the difficult situation" faced by farmers.

Vice-president Jyrki Katainen said: "This demonstrates that the Commission takes its responsibility towards farmers very seriously and is prepared to back it up with the appropriate funds."

The aid measures will be focused on milk producers, which have been particularly hard hit after Russia banned imports of EU food products and the dairy market was deregulated earlier this year.

Other factors - including changing dietary habits and slowing demand from China - have also hit prices for dairy products, as well as beef and pork.

'Drowning in milk'

The aid package came ahead of a meeting of agriculture ministers in Brussels on Monday, at which both milk prices and the impact of the Russian move were on the agenda.

"Europe is drowning in milk," read banners held by farmers representing the European Milk Board.

Police said that 4,800 farmers and about 1,450 tractors made up the protest.

Environment secretary Liz Truss, who was representing the UK at Monday's meeting, planned to call for the creation of a dairy futures market, similar to those for grain and sugar.

The government said such a move would help give the UK's dairy farmers more certainty over future prices.

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Last month, farming leaders and ministers held talks on the future of dairy farming in the UK following protests over milk prices.

Some farmers have called for milk production quotas to be reintroduced to avoid them having to sell at a loss.

Heinz Thorwarth, who went to Brussels from Fuchsstadt, southern Germany, said: "The milk price is under or around 28 cents [a litre]. And this is not enough even to cover the costs."

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France's agriculture minister has estimated that about 22,000 farms - 10% of the total - face bankruptcy and owe about €1bn (£730m) in total.

The Russian import ban has shut down the EU's main agricultural export market, worth some €5.5bn annually.

"The countryside has had to shoulder the burden of the Russian ban," said Albert Jan Maat, president of European farmers association Copa. "Farmers are paying the price for international politics."

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In July, the EU extended until next year a multi-million-euro aid package to help European farmers hit by the Russian ban.

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