The agriculture minister of the Netherlands, who has been his government’s leader in imposing pollution regulations on Dutch farmers, has quit.
Henk Staghouwer, who was in office for nine months, announced his surprising decision Monday night, according to The Associated Press. He had just returned from Brussels after reaching an agreement with the European Commission that would end a Dutch exemption on limits to manure spreading.
“I have come to the conclusion that I am currently not the right person to lead the major tasks in agriculture, horticulture and fisheries as a minister,” Staghouwer said in a tweet, as translated by Google.
Ik ben tot de conclusie gekomen dat ik op dit moment niet de juiste persoon ben om als minister leiding te geven aan de grote opgaven die er liggen in de land- en tuinbouw en in de visserij. Ik treed om deze reden terug als minister van Landbouw, Natuur en Voedselkwaliteit. pic.twitter.com/PhUFGc1QkY
— Henk Staghouwer (@ministerlnv) September 5, 2022
For the past three years, farmers have been battling government efforts to cut emissions of nitrogen oxide and ammonia, which are produced by livestock. Some of the emissions reduction targets have been as high as 95 percent, according to Financial Times.
Farm workers have fought back this year by staging tractor blockades and dumping hay or manure on highways.
In an escalation of actions taken in protest against the governments plans to shut down vast swaths of farmlands, Dutch farmers dumped manure on highways across the Netherlands on Wednesday morning. https://t.co/NwL0WPoQ2P
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) July 27, 2022
In an Op-Ed on FEE, Saul Zimet, a Hazlitt Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education and a graduate student in economics at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, sought to explain the ramifications of the Dutch impasse.
“The farm animals that will likely soon be regulated out of existence produce manure which mixes with urine and releases the nitrogen compound ammonia,” he wrote. “This can harm wildlife and disrupt sensitive ecosystems when it leaks into nearby rivers and lakes.
“But there are simply no other known methods of producing such bountiful agricultural output with the resources available to the Dutch farmers.
“So this is a tradeoff between protecting sensitive ecosystems on the one hand, and on the other hand maintaining a thriving Dutch agricultural industry that is able to support its workers while providing the market with maximally affordable products,” Zimet said.
The Netherlands has not met European Union water quality standards, which is one reason farmers are being pushed to reduce the amount of manure used in their fields.
Staghouwer, 60, is a former baker who last week had said he would be unable to meet a mid-September timetable for the government’s plan to implement changes on Dutch farms.
Bart Kemp of farmers’ organization Agractie said to Dutch public broadcaster NOS that Staghouwer was “a friendly man, but not a decisive person,” the AP reported.
Carola Schouten, the deputy prime minister, will serve as agriculture minister for the time being, according to Politico.
Protesting farmers are not upbeat.
“[Schouten] is invisible. She doesn’t have any plans. She doesn’t have any vision,” said Sieta van Keimpema of the Farmers Defense Force, one of the most vocal groups in the farmer protests.
Jeroen Candel, an agricultural policy professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, said the current government has mishandled the issue.
“We’ve known about the [pollution] for at least 10 years, but because the government kept ignoring the issue, it suddenly found itself backed into a corner without a clear idea of how to resolve it,” he said.
The standoff could become a full-fledged crisis, Candel said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the coalition collapsed over this,” he said.
Zimet, writing on FEE, opined that “ there is no good ending to the story of limiting and reducing the ability of the farming industry, possibly humans’ most important industry, to produce food.”
“The less food civilization has, the less possible it will be to adapt to changing climate conditions,” he wrote. “And since agriculture will always affect its environment, the goal of minimizing the environmental impact of agriculture and other industrial activities is one that will never be complete until everyone starves.”
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