Farmers protest today; traffic problems expected

Tractors block traffic in Den Haag just before evening rush hour
Tractors in Den Haag caused a traffic jam on the S101 already at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 1, 2019Photo: NL Times

Farmers from across the country will be gathering in Bilthoven on Wednesday to protest against the government's nitrogen policy at the RIVM. While the local safety region banned tractors in the area, travelers' organization ANWB still expects traffic problems. The ANWB  warns motorists that major delays are possible, and advised them to closely monitor the traffic situation before starting their journey.

Veiligheidsregio Utrecht banned agricultural vehicles on public roads, in parking lots, and in all other public places in the province of Utrecht - to the anger of the farmers. Driving a tractor or other agricultural vehicle to the protest is also prohibited. Similar bans were put in place in Groningen, in Flevoland for an expected protest at the Lelystad Airport, and in the region of De Gooi en Vechtstreek, which includes the home of several broadcasters in Hilversum, 

"We are very angry about that," Mark van den Oever of action group Farmers Defense Force said to NOS. "We were in good conversation with the municipality and suddenly agricultural vehicles were no longer allowed to come. We are going to call for cars, but I cannot fault any farmer if they do come with tractors."

Bilthoven prepared for the protest, AD reports. On Tuesday evening, the access roads to the RIVM - the institute for public health and the environment - were closed off with fences, concrete blocks and heavy construction equipment. Army vehicles are at the scene to help block access to the institute if necessary. "The goal is to keep everything running smoothly. We hope for a good atmosphere," a spokesperson for the municipality of De Bilt, which covers Bilthoven, said to the newspaper. The police are also present in larger numbers than usual. 

As the farmers won't be able to protest at the RIVM building today, they now plan to protest on the Biltse Rading - the road between De Bilt and Utrecht. Action group Farmers Defense Force and farmers' association Agractie expect thousands of farmers at the protest. The program starts at 1:30 p.m., with several speakers on stage or via video call. The RIVM also received various invitations to speak to the farmers, but the institute will not take part in the demonstration, a spokesperson said to AD.

Due to the coronavirus, and social distancing measures in place to curb its spread, a maximum of 2 thousand farmers can attend the protest. If it gets too crowded, there are alternative options, the spokesperson for De Bilt said.

The farmers are protesting against Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten's plan to reduce ammonia emissions, and therefore nitrogen, from cows by banning the addition of proteins to animal feeds. According to the farmers, reducing the protein content in feed is bad for the animals. Farmers add proteins to feed as concentrates. Earlier this month Schouten said that she would have experts look into the possible health effects of reducing proteins in animal feed in response to "concerns in the sector", though she remains convinced that farmers give their cattle more protein than necessary. 

Two farmers filed charges against Schouten two weeks ago, accusing the Minister of animal cruelty and discrimination. On Tuesday, the Public Prosecution Service announced that it will not process these declarations, because Schouten did not do anything illegal.

The protest at the RIVM on Wednesday has to do with farmers' belief that the RIVM spreads fake nitrogen figures. The farmers accuse the RIVM of being an institute where "political choices predominate over scientific evidence", according to AD.