In the Netherlands, the revolt of farmers against the reduction of nitrogen emissions

A showdown has begun between farmers and the government in the Netherlands, the second largest agricultural exporter in the world after the United States. Everyone is sticking to their positions: the authorities want to reduce the herd of breeders by around 30%, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by 50% by 2030, around Natura natural parks. 2000, whose biodiversity is in danger. “We are last in class in Europe on the protection of our nature reservessaid the Minister of Nature, Christianne van der Wal, in early June. The honest truth is that not all farmers will be able to continue with their business, and not always in the way they operate now. »

The farmers themselves are rebelling against this unilateral decision, which seems to target them exclusively and which was not discussed upstream, as the tradition of consensus requires in the polders. Mark van den Oever, chairman of the radical protest group Farmers Defense Force, believes « unacceptable » government decisions, « going way too far ».

Unprecedented clashes

Dairy cows are targeted, their breeding producing emissions due to the manure and artificial fertilizers used. An opinion from the Council of State ruled in 2019 that the Netherlands violated European nature conservation rules, and could not use mechanisms to circumvent them in the future. The government’s plans go against the sacrosanct principles of freedom and private property, central values ​​in the Netherlands.

Since mid-June, the demonstrations have followed and intensified, bringing together up to 40,000 farmers and growing in violence, with blockades of highways and clashes unseen since the riots which had provoked the restriction measures at the beginning of the first confinement due to Covid-19. Throughout the week, the same scenes were repeated across the country, with processions of tractors blocking food distribution centers belonging to supermarkets in the night.

Fines are raining down, as are arrests after violent demonstrations, on June 28, in front of the home of the Minister of Nature… The protesters then broke a police cordon and attacked a van with hammers and steel stakes, then emptied a swine manure tank on the road. Eight farmers were arrested.

One in four Dutch people belong to a conservation organization

The government remains inflexible. He hinted Thursday, July 7 that farms would inevitably be closed, publishing the detailed plan of the areas requiring reductions in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions between 12% and 95%. The Minister of Nature has given the provinces a year to propose action plans to reduce ammonia and nitrogen oxide emissions by 2030. A mediator has been proposed by the authorities, whom the agricultural union LTO, which calls on its members to demonstrate in the « respect for the law », has refused. There is no need for the centre-right coalition in power to be an ecologist to defend European rules: the defense of the environment, a theme mainstreamis also one of the values ​​dear to the Netherlands, where one in four citizens is part of an organization for the protection of nature.

Other emission reduction plans are planned for the aviation, transport, road construction and housing sectors, the government said, perhaps a little too late to appease farmers. The association of food distributors CBL warns that the current situation, at an impasse, will cost supermarkets millions of euros.


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