Dutch livestock farmers are increasingly outraged and bewildered over a 2019 court ruling that has begun to force thousands of them out of the business—by design. 

The 2019 ruling, issued by the highest court in the Netherlands, upheld lower court rulings that found the country was failing to comply with European Union (E.U.) environmental regulations. The ruling ordered the Dutch government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020—requiring the country to “nearly double the entire amount of greenhouse gas emission cuts it has made since 1990 within one year” (something it notably failed to do). The chief basis of the ruling appears to be limiting the impacts of greenhouse-gas emissions tied to manure.

In response to the ruling, the Dutch government eventually introduced a plan, costing tens of billions of dollars, to “radically” reduce the number of livestock raised in the country by more than 35 million by 2030. The plan includes “paying some Dutch livestock farmers to relocate or exit the industry, and helping others transition to more extensive (as opposed to intensive) methods of farming, with fewer animals and a bigger area of land.”

The plan has sparked “fury” among Dutch farmers, as well as protests against the plan. 

“This proud farming nation is under immense pressure to make radical changes to cut harmful emissions, and some farmers fear their livelihoods will be obliterated,” the BBC reported this past summer, one of several times Dutch farmers have taken to the streets.

“I am a land owner, so a critical question is whether the government are allowed to push farmers out of the land,” dairy farmer and Dutch young farmers’ union member Marije Klever told the Guardian in December. “It can’t be The Hague telling farmers they must go, you need an agreement.” 

“It can’t be.” It shouldn’t be. But it is.

Livestock farming and meat consumption are clearly under attack from climate activists. This past autumn, as I detailed in a column, the Dutch city of Haarlem banned meat advertisements—again, to combat climate change. Months later, students at a public university in Scotland voted to prohibit the sale of meat on the school’s campus for the same reason. And in a column earlier this month, I highlighted a new study that pushes for the inclusion of climate “warning labels” on foods containing red meat.

A Guardian report this week suggests the same fate ultimately could be in the cards for farmers in the United States as well.

Have we reached ‘peak meat,’ like peak oil: so much livestock, so much local pollution, that the only sustainable future is in reduction?” the paper wonders. “They’re questions the US, the world’s largest producer of beef, will also soon have to answer.”

The message from these activists is that eating meat is bad for the climate, human health, and animals (unless the eater is also an animal). Even seeing meat advertisements is bad for the environment, which is why Haarlem’s ad ban supposedly trumps any free-speech concerns. We are expected to believe eating meat is callous and dumb because these increasingly vocal and bold activists tell us so.

But eating meat is no less valid or deserving of protection than any other food choice.

Instead of restricting livestock farming—which I suspect will simply increase the amount of meat imported into the Netherlands—the Dutch should look for other, creative solutions to their problems. For example, why not spend some of the billions set aside to pay Dutch farmers to give up on beef and use it to work with those same farmers to gather, treat, and ship the country’s excess manure to Angola, which was briefly a Dutch colony? Angola’s fertilizer shortage—of which manure is an effective and natural example—has threatened crop harvests and exacerbated poverty and hunger for millions of people there. People living in other poor countries with fertilizer deficits could benefit, too, if other countries with excess fertilizer (including the United States) took the same approach.

Climate change is a problem. Banning meat is not the answer to that problem.

Baylen Linnekin

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