Green rules, red tape: What American farmers can learn from EU protests

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The European Union (EU) has been implementing various measures to fundamentally transform the agricultural sector, notably through initiatives such as the European Green Deal that aims to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Part of the European Green Deal is the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy.

The EU describes their Farm to Fork Strategy as being, “at the heart of the Green Deal…a new comprehensive approach to how Europeans value food sustainability.” These policies have faced challenges and criticisms, particularly from farmers.

One of the contentious effects of these agricultural policies is asking farmers to cull herds and sell their farms to meet environmental regulations. For example, the European Commission in 2023 approved two Dutch plans worth a combined 1.47 billion euros ($1.61 billion) to buy out livestock farmers in order to reduce nitrogen pollution.

This policy and other “green” initiatives have led to significant pushback from European farmers, who have engaged in protests against the European Union.

In France, farmers drove through the heart of Paris to protest an EU pesticide ban that affects one of France’s main crops, the sugar beet. In Ireland, similar protests have been held throughout the small country, which is a major producer of dairy products. Ireland’s Department of Agriculture has proposed culling 200,000 cows to meet the EU’s climate objectives.

The rise of the Farmer-citizen movement in the Netherlands and similar movements in other countries reflect the rising frustration with the Farm to Fork Strategy. The growing Dutch party’s emergence underscores the significant influence and political mobilization of the agricultural sector in Dutch politics, as farmers seek representation and advocacy for their interests.

The upcoming EU election in 2024 adds pressure on policymakers to address the grievances of farmers, although the extent to which they can influence policy remains uncertain.

American farmers can take away several lessons from the experiences of their European counterparts. Firstly, they should approach government intervention in agriculture with caution, recognizing that policies aimed at addressing environmental concerns may have unintended consequences for farmers’ livelihoods. Secondly, while protests can raise awareness of issues, they may not always lead to meaningful change without broader engagement and advocacy efforts.

American farmers would be wise to heed the lessons from the experiences of their European counterparts, as the policy direction embraced by the Biden administration and the USDA suggests similar transformations of the food system may be on the horizon in the United States.