THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – Tractor-driving farmers descended on the Dutch capital Tuesday morning, creating the worst traffic congestion in the county’s history to protest calls to reduce emissions by drastically cutting the number of farm animals.
Thousands turned out on the Malieveld, a field in The Hague that is frequently the site of protests, in heavy rain. Many farmers drove their tractors to the site as part of the protest.
A recent ruling by a Dutch court invalidated a government policy that allowed farmers and other companies 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, and last week a member of one of the government’s coalition parties called for reducing the number of pigs and chickens in the country by half.
“Some 70% of the dangerous nitrogen emissions in the Netherlands comes from livestock and intensive farming. At the same time, factory farming contributes less than 1% to the economy. The balance is completely wrong,” parliamentarian Tjeerd de Groot told the national newspaper the AD.
The country is governed by a center-right four-party government. Ee Groot is from the coalition’s only left-leaning party, the D66.
Sheep farmer Bart Kemp initiated the protest, calling on fellow farmers to join in demonstrating against what he felt was a smear campaign by the government.
Protesters planned for 45 tractors to be parked on the Malieveld. However, by noon, the number had swelled to over 400 tractors, and police directed farmers to park in an overflow lot at a local football stadium and on the nearby beach.
Politicians, as well as Kemp, spoke to the soggy crowd. Agriculture minister Carola Schouten told the cheering crowd “No farmers, no food,” a slogan that appeared on many signs at the protest. Kemp had harsher words for Schouten, telling her directly, “When you started two years ago, you promised clarity, but the ambiguity has never been so great. We are done with it.”
The crowd let their feelings for de Groot, whose remarks prompted the protests, be known as well. He was booed by the crowd, which until then had been mostly cheerful, and only spoke for a few minutes before organizers intervened. Jesse Klaver, leader of the GroenLinks (Green Left) was also shouted down by the crowd, which made obscene gestures.
A small counterprotest of animal rights activists took place nearby.
Dutch traveler’s association ANWB reported the tractor protest created the largest traffic jam in the country’s history. By 8:30 a.m., there were over 685 miles of traffic jams across the nation’s motorways.
The ANWB also predicted a heavy evening rush hour, as the protesters headed home late in the afternoon. The weather forecast called for thunderstorms and hail, worsening traffic congestion.
Police arrested at least three protesters for disregarding traffic rules.
Dutch children also took to the streets, riding their pedal-powered toy tractors in protest.