Farmers protest in brussels, set fires to demand EU action on agricultural issues.

In a fervent demonstration in Brussels on Monday, farmers set fire to piles of old tires to protest and demand action from the European Union (EU) on a range of pressing agricultural issues. Riot police responded by using water cannons to extinguish the flames.

The protest unfolded as agricultural ministers gathered to discuss the crisis in the sector. Over 100 tractors were strategically placed around the headquarters of the EU institutions, a short distance from the secured area where ministers were convening for their meeting.

Farmers from across Europe have been staging weeks of protests, highlighting concerns about challenges such as cheap supermarket prices, low-cost imports undermining local producers, and stringent EU environmental regulations. The grievances are diverse, but a common thread, according to Morgan Ody, General Coordinator of farming organization La Via Campesina, is the economic struggle: “It’s about income. It’s about the fact that we are poor, and that we want to make a decent living.”

Ody, herself a farmer from Brittany, France, called on the EU to establish minimum support prices and reconsider free trade agreements that result in the import of cheaper foreign produce. Farmers argue that higher prices are necessary to support ecological farming practices.

The demands also include a call to end free trade agreements, which farmers claim contribute to cheaper imports from countries with less stringent environmental standards than those of the EU.

At the protest site, a stage was adorned with a sign reading “stop EU Mercosur,” referencing the ongoing negotiations for an EU trade agreement with the Mercosur group of South American countries. The EU has insisted that conditions for signing the Mercosur deal have not been met, emphasizing the need for stronger assurances on environmental standards.

Agriculture ministers were slated to discuss new EU proposals aimed at alleviating pressure on farmers, such as reducing farm inspections and potentially exempting small farms from certain environmental standards.

Belgian Agriculture Minister David Clarinval pointed out the core issue, stating, “Farmers need to be paid for what they do… There are aspects of the Green Deal demanded of farmers that are not remunerated,” referring to EU environmental requirements. In response to weeks of farmer protests, the EU has already made adjustments to its flagship Green Deal policies, including the removal of a goal to cut farming emissions and the withdrawal of a law to reduce pesticides.