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Talks to stop milk trade in Sweden turning sour

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Talks to stop milk trade in Sweden turning sour
Swedes' changing diet habits have put a squeeze on dairy farmers. Photo: Pawel Flato/SCANPIX
14:51 CET+01:00
Falling milk consumption at home and an increasingly tough global market has put a squeeze on Swedish dairy farmers, who on Wednesday were set to meet the Minister for Rural Affairs Sven-Erik Bucht at a round of crisis talks.

Sven-Erik Bucht from the governing Social Democrat party was set to meet with farmers, banks and experts to discuss ways to help the industry cope with an excess of supply in the global market.

The board of Swedish dairy giant Arla has suggested that special pay-outs should be made to dairy farmers. And lobby group LRF Milk wants to see state-guaranteed loans and EU subsidies paid out in advance, according to Swedish news agency TT.

With China last year cutting its milk consumption and Russia stopping all imports, Sweden's dairy farmers are already feeling the Europe-wide price squeeze. And they have found themselves cornered by dwindling milk consumption at home.

Peter Engvall, who keeps 100 cows on his Swedish farm north-west of Stockholm, is one of the farmers who have felt the downturn.

“It’s almost never enough to pay the bills,” he told news wire AFP.

While household milk consumption in the European Union has remained relatively stable, in Sweden it has dropped by nearly half since 1980, as Swedes’ dietary habits have changed.

Milk consumption continues to drop and fell 20 percent between 2002 and 2012, according to the Swedish Board of Agriculture.

“It’s related to a general anxiety (about food),” Maja Nordström, a dairy consumption expert at the LRF Milk lobby group, told AFP.

“May I feed my children sugar? Should I eat meat, should I choose fish? It’s natural for people to question things,” she said.

For Nordström, the industry will survive by exploiting slight upticks in cream, yoghurt and sour milk products over the past decade – with increases around 10 percent – and by diversifying its products.

Arla, a major dairy producer, has sold milk especially branded for barista coffee since 205. Protein-rich cheese curds are being touted in fitness circles.

But dairy farmers can tell the crown jewel in their production is not in demand the way it used to be.

“It’s obviously not a cool drink to sit and sip at a café,” said Engvall, who when asked to describe the history of his dairy farm on a graph, sketched a straight downward slope.

“But it’s something natural, after all, that at least isn’t dangerous.”

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