EXPLAINER: Why are Dutch farmers protesting emissions? | business news

By MIKE CORDER Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Farmers protested in the Netherlands as lawmakers voted Tuesday on proposals to cut emissions of harmful pollutants, a plan that will likely force farmers to reduce their herds of cattle or stop working altogether.

The government says emissions of nitrogen oxide and ammonia, which are produced by livestock, must be drastically reduced near natural areas that are part of a network of protected habitats for endangered plants and wildlife that stretches across 27 nations of the European Union.

As the tractors gathered outside the parliament building, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said farmers have the right to protest but not to break the law.

“Freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate are a vital part of our democratic society, and I will always defend them,” Rutte said. “But… it is not acceptable to create dangerous situations, it is not acceptable to intimidate officials. We will never accept that.”

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WHAT DOES THE GOVERNMENT PROPOSE?

The ruling coalition wants to cut emissions of pollutants, predominantly nitrogen oxides and ammonia, by 50% across the country by 2030. The ministers call the proposal an “inevitable transition” that aims to improve air quality, land and water.

They warn that farmers will have to adapt or face the prospect of going out of business.

“The honest message … is that not all farmers can continue with their business,” and those that do will likely have to farm differently, the government said in a statement this month when it unveiled pollution reduction targets. emissions.

Cattle produce ammonia in their urine and feces. In the past, the government has asked farmers to use lower protein feed for their animals as a way to reduce ammonia emissions. The problem is exacerbated in the Netherlands, which is known for its intensive farming practices, with large numbers of cattle on small areas of land.

Not only farmers are in the crosshairs. In the past, the government has also lowered the national maximum speed limit on highways from 80 miles per hour (130 km/h) to 100 km/h during the day as a way to reduce nitrogen oxides generated by vehicle engines. .

The government has been forced to take action after a series of court rulings that blocked infrastructure and construction projects over fears they would cause emissions that violated environmental regulations. It is giving provincial authorities a year to find ways to meet emission reduction targets.

Some 40,000 farmers gathered last week in the agricultural heartland of the central Netherlands to protest against the government’s plans. Many arrived by tractor, snarling up traffic across the country.

On Monday and Tuesday, farmers again took their protests to the crowded highways, driving slowly down the highways or stopping altogether. Some dumped bales of hay on roads and small groups demonstrated at town halls and in some cases lit bonfires outside buildings.

Some farmers set fire to bales of hay alongside roads on Tuesday, while others gathered in towns and cities, including The Hague.

Farmers argue they are being unfairly singled out as polluters, while other industries, such as aviation, construction and transportation, also contribute to emissions and face narrower rules. They also say that the government is not giving them a clear picture of their future amid the proposed reforms.

WHAT ARE THE NATURAL AREAS THAT ARE THREATENED?

The government has published a map with reduction targets across the country based on proximity to areas designated as part of the EU’s Natura 2000 network of endangered and vulnerable plant and animal habitats. There are Natura 2000 sites in all 27 member states, covering 18% of the bloc’s land area and 8% of its marine territory.

On its website, the European Commission says that the conservation and sustainable use of Natura 200 areas “focus very much on people working with nature and not against it. However, Member States must ensure that sites are managed sustainably, both from an ecological and economic point of view.”

Dutch farmers argue that other EU countries are not cracking down on the farming industry as hard as the Netherlands. During a protest on Monday, a group of farmers in a Dutch Natura 2000 region near the border with Germany put up flags and a “Welcome to Germany” sign to symbolically make it part of the neighboring country.

HOW IMPORTANT IS AGRICULTURE FOR THE DUTCH ECONOMY?

Agriculture, from dairy farming to growing crops in fields and greenhouses, is an important part of the Dutch economy.

According to a national agricultural lobby group, LTO, there are about 54,000 agricultural companies in the Netherlands with exports totaling €94.5 billion in 2019.

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