European dairy farmers sought out an unusual patron in their "search for solidarity". On Wednesday, 140 members of the EMB attended an audience with the Pope in the Vatican to ask for his support.

Dairy farmers from all over Europe made their way to Rome, seeking blessings for themselves, their families and the state of their profession.

"The Pope speaks to us dairy farmers from the heart," said Romuald Schaber, President of the European Milk Board. "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."

The weakest link

Dairy farmers 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, according to the EBM. Traders and dairy companies, on the other hand, are making hefty profits, they said.

"The Market Responsibility Programme developed by the EMB, which adresses 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.

An issue close to the Pope's heart

According to the EBM, the Pope has repeatedly deemed the current economic system unfair. The overproduction and export focus of EU policies, they said, are 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," the EBM said.

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