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The Big Cheese

DW staff (th)July 4, 2008

Germany, where angry dairy farmers recently poured milk down drains for 10 days to protest low prices, has become the world's top cheese exporter, according to new data.

Woman smells cheese
Germany's cheese exports are second to noneImage: AP

The 2007 cheese exports, valued at 2.7 billion euros ($4.2 billion), surpassed in value those of France, a junior minister of agriculture, Gerd Mueller, said in Berlin on Wednesday, July 3. By tonnage, Germany had led competitors France, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Italy since 2006.

A federal agency that collects farm data, ZMP, said the cheese output was mainly based on the 28 million tons of milk produced annually by Germany's 101,000 dairy farmers, plus a small amount of imported milk.

Exports increasing

Yet even with record exports, dairy farmers remain angry over low prices. Farmers currently get between 27 and 33 cents per liter (about $1.60 to $1.90 per gallon), depending on the region. The farmers want 43 cents per liter.

While Lidl and Aldi, Germany's two largest discount grocery chains, have offered to pay higher prices for fresh milk and butter, there is ongoing concern that the European Union plans to switch to a market-driven, quota-free system will put small farmers out of business.

Exports of milk products totalled 7 billion euros in 2007, an increase of 27 percent compared to the previous year. The trend seems to be continuing in 2008, with the first quarter showing a 27 percent increase over the same period from the previous year.