(p. 4) To meet climate goals, some European countries are asking farmers to reduce livestock, relocate or shut down — and an angry backlash has begun reshaping the political landscape before national elections in the fall.
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Those like Helma Breunissen, who runs a dairy farm in the Netherlands with her husband, say that too much of the burden is falling on them, threatening both their livelihoods and their way of life.
For almost 20 years, Ms. Breunissen has provided the Dutch with a staple product, cow’s milk, and she felt that her work was valued by society, she said. The dairy sector in the Netherlands, which also produces cheeses like Gouda and Edam, is celebrated as a cornerstone of national pride.
But the sector also produces almost half the Netherlands’ emissions of nitrogen, a surplus of which is bad for biodiversity. Ms. Breunissen and thousands of other farmers bridle that they are now labeled peak emitters.
“I was confused, sad and angry,” said Ms. Breunissen, who manages a farm of 100 cows in the middle of the country. “We are doing our best. We try to follow the rules. And suddenly, it’s like you are a criminal.”
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In the Netherlands, the government has asked thousands of farmers to scale back, move or close. The authorities set aside about 24 billion euros, about $26 billion, to help farmers put in place more sustainable solutions — or to buy them out.
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For Ms. Breunissen, who is 48 and works as a veterinarian in addition to her duties on the farm, none of the government-proposed options seem feasible. She is too young to quit and too old to uproot her life, she said, and the authorities have not provided enough support and information on how to change what she now does.
“There are so many questions,” she said. “The trust in the government is completely gone.”
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A host of new groups are vying to displace traditional parties. They include the Farmer Citizen Movement, known by its Dutch acronym BBB, which was established four years ago.
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Caroline van der Plas, the party’s co-founder, used to be a journalist in The Hague covering the meat industry, and she has never worked in farming. But she grew up in a small city in a rural area, and she said in an interview that she wanted to be “the voice of the people in rural regions who are not seen or heard” by policymakers.
She and her party have talked down the need for drastic steps to cut emissions, saying the reductions can be achieved through technological innovation. Policies should be based on “common sense,” she said, while offering no concrete solutions.
“It’s not like science says this or that,” Ms. van der Plas said, referring to how theories can change. “Science is always asking questions.”
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(Note: the online version of the story was updated Aug. 28, 2023, and has the title “Labeled Climate Culprits, European Farmers Rebel Over New Standards.”)