Unsurprisingly, these dramatic protests quickly captured the attention of news outlets beyond the Netherlands. Yet most of this international media coverage has reported on the protest by characterizing it as a homegrown effort led by the independent owners of small family farms.
The coverage continues to leave out key players—Dutch agribusiness interests who back these protests in hopes of maintaining the status quo. The industry that helped turn the Netherlands into a nitrogen pollution hotspot is now working behind the scenes, hoping to prevent regulatory efforts to draw down emissions.
The story has strong echoes in Canada, where the fertilizer lobby is mobilizing questionable data and leaning heavily on anti-government media to push hard against the Ottawa’s plan to reduce farm nitrogen use by 20% and nitrous oxide emissions by 30% by 2030. The stakes are high, since nitrous is a climate super-pollutant with about 300 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide. One recent study found the use of nitrogen fertilizers has soared 800% since the 1960s.
Several more media outlets sparked fears of a food crisis, reporting that the regulations could set off a global shortage. In Legal Insurrection, one contributor wrote that “anyone who likes to eat regularly should be deeply concerned about the load of regulatory nonsense that has just been dumped on Dutch agriculture.” Australia’s Sky News co-host James Morrow warned that the global pursuit of net-zero is going to hurt food production.
“Change course now before we hit the iceberg,” he warned Australian policy-makers.
Some right wing ideologues are using the protest as an opening to spread anti-immigrant misinformation. Fox News host Tucker Carlson interviewed Dutch commentator Eva Vlaardingerbroek, who said the country’s government is stealing the farmers’ land “under the guise of a made-up nitrogen crisis” because “they want it to house new immigrants.”
These stories and opinion pieces all repeat myths that could further delay climate action, myths that are now being exploited and amplified by right-wing commentators to the benefit of the Dutch livestock industry.