Friday, February 23, 2024

A food policy that’s double Dutch to me

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The Netherlands’ battle over climate change measures has some lessons for NZ.
Widespread protests by farmers have roiled the Netherlands since the government decreed that 20% of the country’s farms must close down in a bid to control emissions. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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I recently wrote about the financial crisis in Sri Lanka caused by the country going organic. It was encouraged to do so by what were described as the “elite greens”, which included the World Economic Forum (WEF).

I received a large amount of feedback, thank you, with several pointing to the current situation in the Netherlands. 

I discovered there’s a major conflict brewing there involving climate change and how the agricultural sector needs to adapt. We could learn from the shambles.

What I hadn’t realised was the size of the Dutch food producing sector. They have about 100 million chickens, 11.4 million pigs, 3.8 million cattle, 850,000 sheep and 480,000 dairy goats.

They’re the world’s second-largest exporter of agricultural products behind the United States.

What’s more remarkable is that they are all farmed on a country of 41,500km2, about 15% the size of New Zealand. Last year the Dutch agricultural sector earned over €100b. That’s $160b. Putting that in perspective, NZ exported $53.3b.

Their population is three and a half times that of NZ at 17.5 million.

The Netherlands is currently in severe conflict over climate change and the mitigation options being promoted.

Tens of thousands of farmers have taken to the streets, blocking motorways, setting hay bales on fire, dumping manure in public places and blocking supermarket distribution centres. The protests have become violent in some areas with police shooting at farmers.

The reason for the protest is that to counter climate change in the Netherlands, the government has decreed that about 20% of farms will have to close down. That’s 11,200 properties. Another 17,600 farmers must reduce the number of animals they farm. That means 20% of farms close completely and a further 30% have to cut production.

The farms taken out of production will become nature reserves. A sum of €25b was committed for compensation, and an additional €24b has since been needed.

The issue isn’t methane but nitrogen and ammonia, the latter coming mainly from housed animals.

There’s a complete lack of commentary on the coming loss of food. There’s a crisis now, with McKinsey telling us there will be a food deficit that represents a year’s worth of nutritional intake for up to 250 million people.

The reason for the cuts in food production in the Netherlands is to help mitigate global warming, which is fine, but there are some massive inconsistencies in the argument.

For a start, the Netherlands is a highly industrialised country. Cutting back on nitrogen emissions from animals won’t achieve much in the overall course of events.

Also, as we know, the Paris Agreement specifically protects food production so why you would encourage industrial expansion at the expense of food production is beyond me.

No one seems to be talking about the global footprint of the Ukrainian war. It is massive. The United Nations tells us that “the Ukrainian war risks putting global targets on climate change out of reach”.

It is estimated emissions from the military equal “hundreds of millions of tonnes of CO2 a year”. In addition, to counter the cut in Russian gas the Germans are burning coal with all the GHG emissions that creates.

What I find ridiculous is that because we can’t control the foibles of human conflict we feel the passion to do something and food production is an easy target. They obviously forget the fact that you don’t have to fight but you do have to eat.

Of interest is that many in the Netherlands blame the “green billionaires” of the WEF for encouraging the greening of food supply. They say the WEF is trying to reset the global food system in a way that will create an international cost of living crisis and spark unrest. It was also suggested that many in the WEF have heavily invested in lab-grown meats.

I believe the debates have just started.

On the positive side polls have shown that 77% of Dutch citizens support the farmers, who now have a viable political party. The problem is the next general election isn’t due until March 2025, although with the current impasse there could be a snap election at an earlier date.

There are valuable lessons for NZ, the first being that closing down farms to create reserves will achieve nothing except to encourage a change in government.

The most important lesson, however, is that there will be an international food crisis. McKinsey believes it will immediately affect 250 million people. I believe that is conservative. 

There is a war in Ukraine, a severe drought in China and the US, flooding in Pakistan and the Dutch folly, all putting massive pressure on international food production.

That means we should be doing what we do best and that is to provide high quality, sustainable food and not get sidetracked into putting emotion above facts.

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