NETHERLANDS, January 16, 2023 The Guardian): Ingrid de Sain is one of thousands of dairy farmers in the Netherlands who says she sometimes lies awake at night. Since a court ruling in 2019 which found the Dutch were breaking European environmental law, her farm of 100 cows in north Holland has been illegal. Like the other 2,500-plus farmers whose environmental permission was suddenly invalid, she wants a future where she can earn a living and farm legally again. The Netherlands is first to face questions scientists believe will soon come to all intensively farmed areas: how can we balance the needs of the environment with the way we farm and grow? Have we reached “peak meat,” like peak oil: so much livestock, so much local pollution, that the only sustainable future is in reduction? They’re questions the US, the world’s largest producer of beef, will also soon have to answer.

In November, the Dutch government announced the first part of a US$26.3 billion plan to buy out up to 3,000 farms and major industrial polluters near protected nature reserves – if necessary, through compulsory purchase, “with pain in our hearts”. It is hugely controversial and only initial outlines have been announced after a year of protests, tense negotiations and a report in October recommending buying out the top 500 or 600 polluters within a year. The reason is that the emissions of ammonia, nitrogen oxides and nitrous oxide are damaging areas of unique, natural landscape known as Natura 2000 habitats, which the country is bound by EU law to protect. The government says this means reducing local nitrogen compound emissions from between 12% and 70%, including slashing the Netherlands’ 118 million farmed animals by 30% by 2030, according to Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency projections. All eyes are on the Netherlands, according to scientists who believe the world needs action to reduce livestock – rather than relying on voluntary pollution reduction or technological measures that may be unproven at scale.

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