Polish farmers staged blockades across the country to protest competition from Ukraine and heavy EU regulations, with Warsaw hinting it could impose new import bans on Ukrainian agricultural products.
Farmers protested at over 250 locations across Poland, blocking highways and border checkpoints while snarling traffic with columns of slow-moving tractors converging on major cities.
"We have no other choice," Marcin Wilgos, an organiser of the protest in Dorohusk at the border with Ukraine, told AFP next to a banner calling on the European Union to ban Ukrainian grain and sugar.
The farmers also called for an easing of environmental requirements already introduced by the EU as well as those included in the bloc's forthcoming Green Deal.
"They're talking about climate protection. But why should it be done at farmers' expense?" said Janusz Bialoskorski, a 62-year-old farmer protesting in Poznan, northwest Poland.
Hundreds of tractors descended on Poznan, with farmers honking horns and blocking the streets as others gave away fruit and vegetables to passers-by.
"We do not produce plastics polluting the oceans, we do not build cruise ships that pollute the environment nor do we fly to Davos on our jets," Mr. Bialoskorski told AFP.
Sugar and poultry?
The protests came shortly after Polish truckers staged a two-month blockade of major border crossings to demand the reintroduction of restrictions to enter the EU for their Ukrainian competitors.
The hauliers have suspended the blockade until March but warned they will return to the border if their demands are not met.
Poland has been among Ukraine's staunchest supporters during Russia's nearly two-year invasion, but frictions over grain import restrictions introduced by Poland and four other EU countries in June have further strained ties between the allies.
Polish Agriculture Minister Czeslaw Siekierski told state radio that "complete" bans on imports could be imposed on other groups of products as well.
"It may be needed for sugar, if the influx is too large. It may be needed for poultry," Mr. Siekierski said, adding that the government intended to raise the issue in talks with Kyiv.
Asked about the protests, Mr. Siekierski said the farmers had "legitimate expectations and demands" to limit imports from Ukraine, which farmers say are unfairly driving down prices.
Mr. Siekierski met with the protesting farmers in Przyborowice as he announced he would host the organisers of the protests at the ministry next week.
"I came here, because I think it's my duty to talk to farmers and to work on all these demands," Mr. Siekierski told local media.
The protests, called by Poland's main farming union, are slated to continue for a month, part of growing farmer discontent across Europe over tanking revenues across the continent.
Polish farmers say Ukraine competition has battered their earnings because Ukrainian producers are not bound by EU rules on issues such as animal welfare.
"The glut of products from Ukraine, produced not in accordance with EU standards and procedures, is a huge burden for us," Mr. Wilgos said.
The Brussels-approved ban on grain imports by the five EU countries expired in September, when Poland's populist Law and Justice (PiS) party still governed Poland.
But the ban was extended and maintained after the new pro-EU coalition government came to power after Polish elections in October.
Polish officials have nonetheless urged the resignation of EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, a Polish national who gained the post with the support of the PiS.
On February 9, the powerful PiS chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski unexpectedly joined the calls, saying he would ask Mr. Wojciechowski "to end his mission" while acknowledging that he had "no influence" on whether he would continue in the post.