The Dutch government has announced a €25 billion plan to reduce the number of farm animals in the Netherlands due to excess production of manure. After the agreement of a new coalition government in the country earlier this week, the plan will start as a voluntary programme, compensating farmers asked to move away from animal agriculture, and helping others transition to more extensive methods of farming, with fewer animals in a bigger area of land.
This is significant because the Netherlands has one of Europe’s largest farm animals’ industries, with more than 100 million cattle, chickens and pigs. It is also the EU’s biggest meat exporter. In 2018, it had average densities of 14 goats, 93 cattle, 298 pigs and 2372 chickens and hens per sq km. All these animals produce a huge amount of manure, and this is what alerted Dutch environmentalists. When mixed with urine, animal manure also releases ammonia, a nitrogen compound. This leaches into groundwater and ends up in water bodies damaging natural habitats.
Tjeerd de Groot, MP from the Democrats 66 party (part of the Dutch coalition government), said to the Guardian: “We have to move away from the low-cost model of food production. This industry is causing damage to the farmers’ business model and the environment. It’s time to restore nature, climate and air, and in some areas that may mean there is no more place for intensive farmers there.”
In 2020, research published by Elsevier showed that farm animal production in the Netherlands contributes roughly 40% to the total nitrogen deposition, mainly through the emissions of ammonia. The largest contribution to the ammonia emissions is from cattle with 63%, followed by pigs with 21%, and poultry with 11%. That is compelling data that helped environmentalists legally challenge the government.
The non-profit organisation Urgenda won a court case in 2019 forcing the Dutch government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Because of this ruling, in December 2020, the Dutch Parliament passed a new law setting up three targets: 40% of the nitrogen sensitive Natura-2000 areas must be below the critical deposition value (less than 255 mols per hectare) by 2025, 50% of these areas must be below the critical deposition value by 2030, and 74% by 2035. The Government’s plan, believed to be the first of its kind in the world, is already being opposed by many animal farmers, who have started protesting about the prospect of moving from voluntary reductions to compulsory.
Photo credit:Lissy Jayne / HIDDEN / We Animals Media