Having a Cow

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Near the prime minister’s office in The Hague, the seat of the government of the Netherlands, lies the Koediefstraat, or ‘Cow Thief Street’.

Perhaps it was the Koediefstraat that inspired the Dutch government’s latest measure to combat climate change and reach the country’s climate goals, the Economist wondered.

Regardless, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte recently proposed new limits on nitrogen emissions from fertilizer, manure and other carbon-heavy farm inputs and outputs as part of a plan to cut Dutch nitrogen, a major polluting by-product of agriculture, by half over the next eight years. As a result, farmers need to reduce their number of cows and pigs by almost a third.

The farmers, understandably, are not happy. They have protested, in June bringing cows to parliament to show their displeasure, Bloomberg noted. The Netherlands has more than 100 million cattle, chickens and pigs, the densest concentration of livestock in Europe. Who, the farmers asked, would produce the food to feed people if officials cut 30 million animals from their food supply?

“We don’t want the system to collapse,” Marije Klever, a dairy farmer in Utrecht, told the Guardian. “I am a landowner, so a critical question is whether the government (is) allowed to push farmers out of the land. It can’t be The Hague telling farmers they must go, you need an agreement.”

The massive size of Dutch herds is one reason the country is among the largest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases, however, France 24 countered. Cow burps – yes, belching cows – contribute significant amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Dutch scientists are now experimenting with different feed that could reduce the amount of methane that the gassy animals emit.

Dutch farmers, the fifth largest exporter of dairy products in the world, are also running out of space to store cow manure, Treehugger has previously Now they’re worried about groundwater contamination and ammonia emissions that also contribute to climate change.

The conservative British newspaper, the Spectator, argued that Rutte’s cow proposal was an example of how not to roll out climate change initiatives. The writers suggested that Rutte could have met with them and crafted an agreement they could accept rather than deliver shock therapy in pursuit of climate goals.

Rutte, incidentally, recently became the Netherlands’ longest-serving prime minister. His popularity, wrote Reuters, is “a testament to his energy for the job – as well as the political survival skills he has honed over his 12-year tenure.”

He’s got his work cut out for him.

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