ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU
PARIS (AP) -- Angry French farmers dumped millions of liters of fresh milk next to one of France's most famous tourist sites on Friday to denounce the slumping cost of milk and an EU plan to end production quotas, which could further drive prices down.
APLI, a small dairy farmer's union that organized the protest, said over 1,000 farmers and 300 tractors took part in the event, pouring 3,5 million liters (925,000 gallons) of milk onto fields next to the famed Mont Saint-Michel. The Medieval island monastery is one of the most visited sites in France and is next to the Normandy and Brittany regions, which are both big milk producers.
While the European Union strongly subsidizes agriculture, milk farmers' groups say world prices have sunk so much they are having to sell their milk at about 20 euro cents per liter --or about half its production costs.
The crisis has driven many EU farmers into a "milk strike," with thousands refusing to deliver milk to the industrial dairy conglomerates that produce anything from skimmed milk to processed cheese. But because cows have to be milked every day anyhow, some farmers have been dumping the overflow in protest.
Authorities in France and several other producing countries have largely voiced support for the farmers.
"To be forced to waste milk and spill it in fields, it's a sign of great desperation," French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire told the I-television station on Friday.
The TV also reported that a group of farmers had raided a French supermarket, distributing its dairy products for free to customers.
In the Netherlands, farmers dumped 100,000 liters (26,418 gallons) of milk on a field 10 miles north of Amsterdam. German farmers also demonstrated outside a meeting of Germany's federal and state agriculture ministers, pouring thousands of liters of milk onto a road near the town of Eisleben.
The protests follow widespread actions across Europe this week, including a group that poured several tons of milk and cow dung inside a bank in southern France on Thursday, accusing bankers of profiteering from the farmers' misery.
The protests have not drawn universal support from farmers, many of whom object to wasting the milk.
The head of the French OPL dairy union, Daniel Condat, retorted Friday that farmers on strike are also donating their products to charities. He said French farmers donate about 15 million liters every year.
"Since the beginning of the strike, farmers are giving milk away to whoever wants it," Condat told France-Inter radio.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.