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Europe’s Lactose Intolerance

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Mass moovement: Demonstrations against low milk prices and demands for aid have been going on for over a month in Europe, culminating yesterday when protesters invaded Brussels. Above, Belgian dairy farmers, many of whom brought their cows, protest low milk prices outside European Commission headquarters on Sept. 7. Organizers say milk prices are less than 75 percent of production costs and will only get worse if the European Union's proposal to eliminate milk quotas by 2015 comes to fruition.

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The milky way: French dairy farmers dump 200,000 liters of milk in protest on Sept. 21 in Isigny-le-Buat, in northern France. In Belgium, an estimated 3 million liters of milk were dumped into fields last month. Ministers from 20 of the 27 EU member countries signed a joint statement demanding emergency aid for dairy farmers.

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Going to have a cow: French farmers take to the streets on tractors in Caen, France, on Oct. 5 to pressure the European Union for emergency aid for dairy farmers. The main protest in Brussels had 5,000 farmers and 1,000 tractors, according to organizers. The EU countries pay the agricultural sector a combined $80 billion annually in support payments, rural development, storage aid, and other programs.

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No crying over spilled milk: A German farmer pours milk into his field, protesting falling milk prices on Sept. 16. Prices have plummeted in part due to the economic crisis, and in some countries milk prices are half what they were in 2007.

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Milking support: Some farmers decided that instead of wasting milk by dumping it, they would give it away. Above on Sept. 20 in Ghent, Belgium, protesters hoped to garner support for their cause by distributing free milk. Settlement prices for milk in the European Union have dropped an average of 31 percent since 2007. EU farm leaders warned that dairy producers stand to lose up to 14 billion euros by the end of the year if nothing is done.

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A dairy farmer takes aim to throw a rotten chicken at police officers at an Oct. 5 protest in Le Mans, France. Farmers' demands include a 5 percent cut in quotas and increased intervention purchasing.

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European milk producers have protested for more than a month, calling for EU assistance. They were criticized yesterday, however, for tarnishing the European Union's image, as well as wasting food. "Apparently, these images immediately blew up Europe's reputation in the developing world like a ton of dynamite," said EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel. "The common view was that in times when hunger is still an increasing problem worldwide, European farmers are destroying foodstuffs on a large scale just to receive more subsidies." Above, farmers demanding better policies set tires and straw aflame to block a road in Montchanin, France, on Sept. 29.

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German dairy farmers hold a mock funeral outside a campaign rally in Berlin on Sept. 26, the day before Germany's election. The text on the coffin reads, "Dairy farms mourn."

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Down in the dumps: Food fights have long been used as a tool in European farmers' arsenal. Above, in July 1992, fruits and vegetables are dumped on the streets of Avignon, France, to protest the Common Agricultural Policy.

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Farmers brought the milk issue to the heart of Brussels on Oct. 5, spraying milk directly from a cow's udder, as well as from canisters, onto police officers. The cow above was later spooked by firecrackers and escaped. She chased an office worker down the street but was captured by the farmers. Agriculture ministers convened in the city for an emergency meeting, but all they decided was to issue a committee report on the milk issue in June. Meanwhile, for European dairy farmers, milk is no longer a cash cow.

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