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

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Farmers in the Netherlands have formed their own version of Canada’s “Freedom Convoy,” blocking highways with tractors, setting bales of hay on fire and taking other actions to protest the government’s recent goal to cut emissions that could force some farms to shutter.

“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 while standing on top of a hay bale in the town of Eerbeek last week, the Guardian reported.

Roughly 40,000 protesters gathered in central Netherlands to protest plans to curb the emissions of nitrogen and ammonia last month. Weeks later, the protests have continued across the country with no sign of abating.

Photos and videos show farmers causing a highway near Germany’s border to come to a halt, with some Germans reportedly even joining the protest. Hundreds of businesses in three towns were virtually shut down due to three different protests, the Guardian reported Saturday. Meanwhile, some supermarkets have barren shelves due to the farmers also targeting distribution centers earlier this month.

DUTCH POLICE SHOOT AT 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 into a referendum.

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The Dutch government is aiming to cut nitrogen and ammonia emissions by 50% by 2030 in a bid to improve air, land and water quality. The plans include cutting back on fertilizer used on farms and ratcheting back the number of livestock by an estimated 30%.

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

“If you ask me now, I’d 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’s much too beautiful to deal with what’s going on in the agriculture sector at the moment.”

Farmers block the arrival and departure halls at Groningen Airport Eelde in Eelde, the Netherlands, to protest against the government's far-reaching plans to cut nitrogen emissions on July 6, 2022.

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

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

Farmers say they are being unfairly targeted by the rules while other industries, such as aviation, construction and transportation, are also contributing to emissions and face fewer rules. Farmers also argued that they have not been provided a clear picture of their futures in light of the reforms.

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The convoys of tractors are a nod to Canada’s Freedom Convoys, the Guardian reported, which were held across Canada earlier this year to protest the nation’s strict coronavirus vaccine policies.

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

The demonstrations have become so widespread that Rolling Stones’ frontman Mick Jagger gave a shout-out to the farmers in Dutch during an Amsterdam concert Thursday.

The Dutch protests gained more attention on Tuesday when police opened fire on a 16-year-old farmer driving a tractor in the northern area of ​​the country during a protest. The teenager allegedly moved his tractor toward 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 during the incident, according to police.

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

The nation’s prime minister, Mark Rutte, has meanwhile slammed the protesters, including calling them “a – holes” in a private company, 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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