Dutch farmers form ‘freedom convoys’ to protest government’s tough environmental rules

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Farmers in the Netherlands have formed their own version of Canada’s ‘Freedom Convoy’, blocking highways with tractors, burning hay bales and taking other actions to protest the government’s recent goal to cut emissions which could force some farms to close.

“Where is our prime minister? This country is on fire and the farmers are standing up to the government,” a spokesman for the protests said as he stood atop a haystack in the town of Eerbeek the last week, the Guardian reported.

Around 40,000 demonstrators gathered in central Holland to protest plans to cut nitrogen and ammonia emissions last month. Weeks later, protests continued across the country with no sign of abating.

Photos and videos show farmers causing a highway stop near the German border, with some Germans even joining the protest. Hundreds of businesses in three cities have been virtually shut down due to three different protests, the Guardian reported on Saturday. Meanwhile, some supermarkets have empty shelves as farmers also targeted distribution centers earlier this month.

DUTCH POLICE SHOOT TRACTOR DURING NIGHT OF FARM PROTESTS

Farmers gather with their vehicles next to a Germany/Netherlands border sign during a protest on the A1 highway near Rijssen on June 29, 2022 against the Dutch government’s nitrogen plans. – Netherlands OUT (Photo by Vincent Jannink / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT (Photo by VINCENT JANNINK/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)
(VINCENT JANNINK/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

Farmers say the protests are not intended to anger their fellow citizens and consumers, but to force the government to hold a referendum.

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The Dutch government aims to reduce nitrogen and ammonia emissions by 50% by 2030 with the aim of improving air, soil and water quality. Plans include reducing fertilizer use on farms and reducing the number of livestock by around 30%.

The country is one of the largest agricultural producers in the world, exporting around $97 billion in 2020 worth of fruits, flowers, vegetables, dairy products and meat.

“If you ask me now, I would say, please don’t even think about it,” dairy farmer Jaap Zegwaard said of whether he would recommend farming to younger generations. “There are so many worries. Life is way too good to deal with what is happening in agriculture right now.”

Farmers block the arrival and departure halls of Groningen Eelde Airport in Eelde, the Netherlands, in protest against the government's ambitious plans to reduce nitrogen emissions on July 6, 2022.

Farmers block the arrival and departure halls of Groningen Eelde Airport in Eelde, the Netherlands, in protest against the government’s ambitious plans to reduce nitrogen emissions on July 6, 2022.
(KEES VAN DE VEEN/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

“Ask the average farmer: it’s deeply sad,” he said.

Farmers say they are unfairly targeted by the rules while other industries, such as aviation, construction and transport, also contribute to emissions and face fewer rules. Farmers also argued that they had not been given a clear picture of their future in light of the reforms.

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The tractor convoys are a nod to Canada’s freedom convoys, the Guardian reported, which took place across Canada earlier this year to protest the country’s tough coronavirus vaccine policies. .

Fishermen in the Netherlands have also joined the protests, blockading the port of Harlingen with trawlers last week, EuroNews reported.

The protests have become so widespread that Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger shouted at farmers in Dutch during a concert in Amsterdam on Thursday.

The Dutch protests drew more attention on Tuesday when police opened fire on a 16-year-old farmer driving a tractor in the north of the country during a demonstration. The teenager allegedly moved his tractor towards the police, according to German outlet Deutsche Welle. After initially being held on suspicion of attempted manslaughter, the teenager was released without charge. No one was injured in the incident, according to police.

The protests have been mostly peaceful, with one protest about 60 miles east of Amsterdam veering off a road to let two funeral processions pass. Farmers at the protest also handed out food and coffee to the police, the Guardian reported.

The country’s prime minister, Mark Rutte, meanwhile criticized the protesters, including calling them an “asshole” in private business, according to the Guardian.

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“It is not acceptable to create dangerous situations. It is not acceptable to intimidate officials,” he said last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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