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Protesting farmers surround EU headquarters in Brussels as ministers meet

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Farmers set fire to piles of old tyres in Brussels on Monday in a protest to demand EU action on issues ranging from cheap supermarket prices to free trade deals, as agriculture ministers gathered to discuss the crisis in the sector, according to Reuters. 

Riot police fired water cannon to put out flames. Over 100 tractors were parked around the European Union institutions’ headquarters, a short distance from the cordoned off area where ministers were arriving for their meeting.
 
Farmers across Europe have staged weeks of protests to demand action from policymakers on an array of pressures they say the sector is under – from cheap supermarket prices, to low-cost imports that undercut local producers, to strenuous EU environmental rules.
 
Local grievances vary. But Morgan Ody, General Coordinator of farming organisation La Via Campesina, said that for most farmers: „It’s about income.”
 
“It’s about the fact that we are poor, and that we want to make a decent living,” Ody told Reuters.
 
Ody, herself a farmer from Brittany, France, called on the EU to set up minimum support prices and exit free trade agreements that enable imports of cheaper foreign produce.
 
“We are not against climate policies. But we know that in order to do the transition, we need higher prices for products because it costs more to produce in an ecological way,” she said.
 
Demands also include ending free trade agreements, which farmers say have led to cheaper imports from countries where producers face less stringent environmental standards than those of the EU.
 
A stage set up at the protest site on Monday was draped with a sign that said “stop EU Mercosur” – a reference to ongoing negotiations to conclude an EU trade agreement with the Mercosur group of South American countries.
 
The European Commission has said the conditions that would allow the EU to sign the Mercosur deal have not been met. It has sought stronger assurances on environmental standards in the deal.
 
Agriculture ministers were set to debate a new set of EU proposals to ease the pressure on farmers – including a reduction in farm inspections and the possibility to exempt small farms from some environmental standards.
 
“Farmers need to be paid for what they do… There are aspects of the Green Deal demanded of farmers that are not remunerated. That is the core of the problem,” Belgian Agriculture Minister David Clarinval said, referring to EU environmental requirements.
 
In response to weeks of protests by angry farmers, the EU has already weakened some parts of its flagship Green Deal environmental policies.
 
The EU scrapped a goal to cut farming emissions from its 2040 climate roadmap. It has also withdrawn a law to reduce pesticides and delayed a target for farmers to leave some land fallow to improve biodiversity.