We came across the following post on a US-based Telegram channel with over 121,000 followers:
The post from 9 May claimed that the European Union had allowed Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, to ‘seize over 3,000 farms’ and ban these farm owners from purchasing any new farms.
The post was accompanied by a video two minutes in length, which did not clarify the claims within the post and had no spoken commentary. The video instead featured spliced clips of tractors at farmers’ protests in the Netherlands set to a dramatic soundtrack.
In a Nutshell: The Dutch Farmers’ Protests
The farmers’ protests are part of a long-running saga in the Netherlands where farmers have demonstrated since 2019 against government plans to reduce or shut livestock (animal) farming operations in order to cut harmful nitrogen emissions by half by 2030 to meet EU standards.
Livestock farming has been targeted as it is a major emitter of ammonia and nitrous oxide. Ammonia is produced when animal manure reacts with urine, while nitrous oxide is created through the use of fertilisers. Ammonia can cause the acidification of the soil and water, resulting in a loss of biodiversity, and nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas that can accelerate climate change.
Decades of intensive farming in the Netherlands, the second-largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, have led to excessive and illegal levels of nitrous oxide and ammonia in the environment.
The protests culminated in a farmers’ party, the Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB), gaining enough public support to become the largest party in the Dutch upper house of parliament in the March 2023 elections.
When we investigated the origins of the claims in the Telegram post, we found that the Dutch farmers’ protests had long been associated with right-wing conspiracy theories.
An NBC article from December 2022 detailed how the Farmers’ protests had gained support and attention from far-right figures, including on Tucker Carlson’s former show on Fox News.
Politicians such as Donald Trump, France’s Marine Le Pen, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, as well as Netherlands’ own far-right Forum for Democracy (FvD) party have also previously expressed support for the protests.
The far-right support for the farmers in opposition to the measures has often been accompanied by conspiracy theories such as that the Dutch farms are being shut to make space for asylum seekers, and that the farms are being shut by the government to restrict the food supply in order to control the population. There is no evidence to support either theory.
Voluntary Measures Mischaracterised
The Telegram post appears to have been precipitated by a 2 May announcement by the European Commission that it had approved the Dutch plans—called LBV and LBV plus—to compensate Dutch farmers for the closure of their livestock breeding sites.
The 3,000 farms mentioned in the post are a reference to those that apply for the LBV plus scheme, under which they are entitled to a higher level of compensation. These farms are designated as ‘peak loaders’ as they cause the most nitrogen deposition in the nature reserves.
While the plans to close livestock breeding farms exist, both the European Commission’s and Dutch government’s announcements state that the plans are voluntary.
It is true that the farm owners would not be able to reopen livestock farms elsewhere in the EU. According to the EU statement, the beneficiaries of LBV and LBV plus would ‘guarantee that the closure of their (livestock) production capacity is definitive and irreversible’.
While news reports had previously indicated that the European Commission had advised the Dutch government to implement a mandatory buyout of the farms to meet the nitrogen emissions standards, the Dutch government appears not to have implemented the measures as compulsory, likely due to the political sensitivity of the issue.
Notwithstanding the possibility that the buyout measures become mandatory in the future as the Netherlands attempts to resolves its pressing legal commitments, far-right platforms such as Breitbart have continued to falsely report the buyout scheme as ‘forcibly’ shutting the farms.
As such, we rate the Telegram as partially false. While it contains some factual elements, its primary allegation that the Dutch government is forcibly seizing farms—implying a lack of consent by their owners and an obligation to participate in the measures—is untrue.