European farmers are in a very bad mood. For the last several weeks, they have protested against EU climate policies that threaten their existence as farmers and their ability to care for their families.
The farmers got a partial victory on Tuesday when the EU withdrew a bill that would have cut the use of pesticides by up to 50% with a subsequent loss of production. You can’t feed insects and humans at the same time, which is something that anyone except a climate bureaucrat would know.
But the protests are just starting. And there are plenty more issues that have EU farmers steaming.
“We want to make sure that in this process, the farmers remain in the driving seat,” the EU’s top official, Ursula von der Leyen, said at the European Parliament. “Only if we achieve our climate and environmental goals together will farmers be able to continue to make a living.”
Farmers aren’t buying it. They know what it takes to make a living and it’s obvious to them that EU climate bureaucrats don’t have a clue.
The farmers argue they’re being hit from all sides: high fuel costs, green regulations, unfair competition from producers in countries with fewer environmental restrictions.
Nonetheless, agriculture accounts for 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s impossible for the European Union to meet its ambitious climate targets, enshrined in law, without making dramatic changes to its agricultural system, including how farmers use chemical pesticides and fertilizers, as well as its vast livestock industry.
It also matters politically. Changing Europe’s farming practices is proving to be extremely difficult, particularly as parliamentary elections approach in June. Farmers are a potent political force, and food and farming are potent markers of European identity.
Agriculture accounts for a minuscule 1% of EU GDP and employs 4% of its workforce. But farming takes up 30% of the EU budget because of the massive subsidies that they pay to keep food cheap while encouraging farmers to continue growing it.
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Farmers are angry at some of their own governments that are cutting subsidies for diesel fuel. They’re upset with the EU for cuts in the use of nitrogen fertilizer, which is fossil-fuel-based. The farmers are being squeezed between the draconian climate rules that are killing their farms and the cuts in subsidies that they need to be profitable.
Tim Benton, who’s chief at a research facility in London, says “This is a wider case of how, if we are to transition to sustainability, we need to invest more in ‘just transitions’ to take people along and allow them to feel better off, not penalized,” he said.
In other words, more “feel good” PR about saving the planet and less emphasis on “doom and gloom” that makes the draconian policies necessary.
I doubt whether the farmers will be satisfied.