European dairy farmers have reached out to Pope Francis for some spiritual blessing, in the hope it can help boost the ailing milk sector.
Around 140 dairy farmers, who are members of the European Milk Board, travelled to the Vatican in Rome to ask the Pope for some assistance.
They travelled from France, Lithuania and many other countries, all asking for the same thing, a future for their industry.
Blessing will strengthen efforts
Whether Pope Francis can help or not is another matter, but at least the spiritual leader listened and conversed with the farmers. Romuald Schaber, president of the European Milk Board, said: "The Pope speaks to us dairy farmers from the heart. "Humility, sustainability and respect for what man receives from nature are virtues that guide our lives. Pope Francis's blessing means a lot to us and has strengthened us in our efforts."
"Open to me the gates of righteousness" said Pope Francis at the beginning of the Holy Year in early December, opening the Holy Door of St Peter's Basilica, which had remained bolted for 15 years.
Milk producers are also calling for righteousness. They are the first and weakest link in the food production chain and have had to fight for their financial survival for a long time now, in the face of extremely low milk prices.
Prices for producers in Europe have fallen by 30-40% due to politically condoned overproduction.
Problems milk market ignored by policy-makers
In many countries, the price is as low as €0.25 per litre, while production costs are over €0.40. Traders and dairy companies, on the other hand, are making hefty profits. However, prices have tumbled even further for some dairy farmers in Scotland who are facing prices of around €0.20 per litre. EMB say dairy farmers in Europe are currently facing an extremely difficult situation and that the shortcomings plaguing the dairy market are being ignored by policy-makers. "The Market Responsibility Programme (MRP) developed by the EMB, which addresses overproduction, must finally be implemented by EU policy-makers.
Only then can milk producers make a living from their work," said Sieta van Keimpema, EMB vice-president.
The Pope has repeatedly deemed the current economic system unfair and strongly criticised neoliberalism. EU policies with their overproduction and export focus are currently destroying peasant dairy farms in Europe and in developing countries. European companies are standing by to enter local dairy markets in developing countries and end up supressing local milk production sooner or later. This leads to poverty - an issue that is close to the Pope's heart.
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Average milk prices in the European Union have dropped by over two per cent in May, according to the latest statistics. The weighted average milk price stood at €30.48 per 100kg, which is down €0.82 per 100kg (2.6 per cent) from the previous month.
The Pope also has small farm
Roberto Cavaliere from APL Italy was very impressed after speaking with the head of the Catholic Church. He said: "Pope Francis takes a firm stand against abuse. We must also continue this uncomfortable struggle with the same fighting spirit. "We need better underlying conditions for the dairy market; so that we and our families can have a future and sustainable agriculture becomes possible." The Pope also has his own small farm within the grounds of Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence in the hills 20 miles outside Rome. There he has cows, chickens, donkeys and ostriches that make up his private farm which he opened to the public last year for the first time.
Tourists will be able to inspect the pontifical poultry, which lay eggs for the Pope's table at his modest residence inside the Vatican, as well as a small herd of cows, which produce milk for yoghurt and mozzarella cheese.