Members of Farmers Defence Force hold one another. (Photo by Pierre Crom/Getty Images)


Militant Farmer Defence Force spreads to Belgium


Angry Belgian farmers have rallied behind the new Farmers Defence Force (FDF) to protest in Antwerp on August 18, echoing earlier demonstrations in the Netherlands.

The farmers are targeting the port city because it is a stronghold for the ruling centre-right N-VA party, whom they accuse of rolling out the red carpet for the highly polluting chemical industry while imposing strict environmental laws on agriculture.

The protest has been organised by the newly established FDF Belgium, mirroring the grassroots movement that took shape in the Netherlands and fights for the rights of farmers after the government imposed tough nitrogen restrictions.

The organisers hope to attract more than 1,000 farm workers from all over Belgium to the demonstration in Antwerp. Since they will be coming by tractor, traffic might well be considerably hampered across the motorway system.

The Antwerp police are well prepared for the farmers’ action, with a significant force mobilised to respond appropriately to the demonstration.

There is particular concern about potential traffic blockades, similar to past incidents such as when fairground workers paralysed Antwerp’s traffic for nearly a full day by leaving their trucks at major intersections.

The Dutch FDF gained notoriety for blocking roads, public buildings and supermarket distribution centres. They also visited the homes of politicians whose policies they felt endangered farmers, much to the dismay of those politicians themselves.

In Flanders, Northern Belgium, the government there chose to act in similar fashion to the Dutch Government and imposed severe limitations on the emissions of nitrogen, together with a whole host of other measures that target farmers. But they claim the same Flemish government is bending over backwards to allow the construction of a [highly polluting] new chemical plant for chemical-industry giant INEOS in Antwerp.

Bart Dickens, a spokesman for the FDF Belgium, said on Radio 1: “The N-VA is applying double standards. For the new INEOS plant, everything is being done to get it to Antwerp. At the same time, such a strict nitrogen standard is being imposed on farmers that from January 1, 2025 no Flemish farmer will be able to get an environmental permit.”

He called the apparent leniency towards industry in general “unfair” when compared to the strict regulations for farmers. The government claims industrial sectors have made more progress in reducing emissions but Dickens said that argument was irrelevant.

“You have to look at who’s polluting the most,” he said. He added that the protest did not mean farmers were targeting industry but “mismanagement” by the government and in particular the N-VA party, whom they accuse of wanting “to destroy farming”.

Dickens said anyone was welcome to join the Antwerp demo, while implying more “robust” forms of campaigning might be an option in the future.

“When farmers are kept being ignored, they will have nothing to lose,” he added.