Seeding Fury

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In Italy, a sign on the front of a tractor flying the Italian tricolor in Turin in early February read, “Agriculture is dying!” as Euractiv wrote. To the north, in Germany, around 30,000 farmers and 5,000 tractors descended on Berlin, protesting the end of fuel tax exemptions. In the ex-Soviet republic of Latvia, farmers demonstrated and called for a ban on imports of Russian products.

Meanwhile, Bulgarian farmers went to the capital Sofia decrying “the total failure” of their government to address their needs amid inflation, unstable markets, climate change, and other dynamic conditions. As the Associated Press explained, the farmers wanted “state compensation for high costs and falling incomes.”

Farmers blocked roads near Paris and the road on the Dutch-Belgian border, Reuters added. They complained that the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) had become a “Common Ecological Policy” that made life harder for farmers rather than incentivizing farmers to make and sell more unique European products.

And so it goes, from France to Spain, Poland to Bulgaria – farmers are angry and out in the streets protesting across Europe. In fact, only Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden have been spared, to date.

Behind the protests, as varied as the gripes are, there is a consistent trend. Farmers say they simply can no longer conduct business on the slim or non-existent margins they are earning, CNN noted. Too many regulations and too few incentives to produce more, expand, and export more are stifling industries that produce French wines, Italian olive oil, and German bratwurst.

Other factors are at play, too. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Europe temporarily lifted barriers that had been against Ukrainian food imports, the BBC wrote. The measure was supposed to help Ukraine finance its war effort when exports through the Black Sea were blocked. But Ukrainian foodstuffs flooded European markets, suppressing prices and hurting European farmers. That’s why Polish farmers have been out in force.

European leaders, meanwhile, have got the message. The European Commission removed language in a proposal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions through 2040 that referred to agricultural pollution, a major source of greenhouse gases. An initial draft foresaw a 30-percent cut in farm emissions between 2015 and 2040, Politico reported. Language recommending that Europeans eat less meat was also cut from the proposal.

Environmentalists were disappointed, according to the New York Times. To meet its ambitious climate targets, they said, the EU would need to dramatically cut down on chemical pesticides and fertilizers and reduce its livestock industry. Farmers, incidentally, receive millions in European subsidies.

In a market in Paris, Moroccan oranges and Polish mushrooms cost about half as much as the equivalent French produce, the Associated Press noted. “We understand their anger because we value farmers. What are we going to do if they are not here? We won’t eat,” truck driver Jeremy Don, whose livelihood is threatened by the farmers’ blockades outside of Paris, told the news wire.

But even so, he admitted that not everyone can afford it: Households in France like elsewhere in Europe are struggling with inflation, high interest rates and volatile energy prices, which have repeatedly brought tens of thousands of people out on the streets in protest.

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