Dutch Court Blocks Supermarket Protest Planned by Farmers

Protesting farmers on tractors block a main road leading to the center of The Hague, Netherlands, on Oct. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

LELYSTAD, Netherlands (CN) – Dutch farmers can protest emissions cuts but they cannot block the country’s food supply ahead of Christmas, a court in the Netherlands ruled Tuesday.

“These sorts of actions…would cause severe damage. Not only for the supermarkets but also for consumers and health care facilities,” Central Netherlands Court Judge Remco Hoekstra said in a statement.

In a statement posted on Facebook in response to the ruling, the Farmers Defense Force, or FDF, said, “We have been silenced,” but instructed its members to abide by the judge’s instructions.

The farmers’ advocacy group had been threatening to block food distribution centers in the Netherlands ahead of the Christmas holiday.

Farmers have been protesting since October over a Dutch court ruling earlier this year that invalidated a government policy allowing farmers and others to defer offsetting nitrogen emissions. Under European Union regulations, the release of nitrogen into the environment is restricted in protected areas.

Most of the problematic emissions in the Netherlands come from the agricultural sector. Dutch leaders have said farmers will need to reduce their amount of livestock to meet EU emissions standards.

In November, the government announced it will reduce the speed limit on highways as one partial solution.

In an interview with the national newspaper – the Algemeen Dagblad, or the AD – Jeroen van Maanen, one of the leaders of the FDF, said Monday, “With a little rebellion, we hope for a breakthrough in nitrogen rules.”

In response, the Centraal Bureau Levensmiddelenhandel, or CBL, an interest group that represents supermarket owners, filed a lawsuit to prevent farmers’ from disrupting supermarket distribution centers.

“It is senseless that the consumer be confronted with empty shelves, an empty refrigerator and an austere Christmas meal,” the CBL wrote in a public letter to the FDF.

Following the announcement of the lawsuit, the FDF said its members would not protest at food distribution centers. Their lawyer, Erik van der Goot, called the blockades “fake news” and said it was never part of the plan.

However, in a letter obtained by the Dutch public broadcaster NOS, the FDF listed 45 distribution centers as potential locations for a protest, including the centers for the largest supermarket chains in the country.

The farmers are still planning some type of protest action on Wednesday, the nature of which will not be announced until that morning.

Another FDF leader, Mark van den Oever, told the NOS that the group hadn’t planned to protest against the CBL initially but now the organization was “higher on their list.”

If the farmers ignore the court order and block food distribution centers, they will be fined 100,000 euros, or $115,000, per day per location.

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